Contractor profile: Kerr-Taylor hay baling service

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Lyndsay Whittle

Farm Trader caught up with the Kerr-Taylor family to know more about their popular hay bailing service on the outskirts of Auckland

Father and son team Ross and Allan Kerr-Taylor blended their two businesses, Ngaio Glen 2000 Ltd and Conventional Contracting Ltd, to provide a hay baling service to the Waimauku area and neighbouring communities.

The trusty old Case IH and baler

While the Kerr-Taylor name may sound familiar to many Aucklanders for its association with historic Alberton House and surrounding Mt Albert properties, the Kerr-Taylor family has also owned property in Waimauku for 150 years.

Farm boys

An old Fordson Dexta and three generations of Kerr-Taylors

Both Ross and Allan have lived on the farm their entire lives. They both have also always loved farm life, and with baling hay an integral part of life on the farm, they genuinely enjoy what they do for a living.

Ross started out in the baling game with a Massey Ferguson 165. This was back when paddocks were much larger because Auckland farms were bigger, and it was easy to get good long runs with a consistently higher bale-per-hour production rate.

Gorse mulching at Waitakere

These days, most of the neighbouring farmland has been cut up into 10-acre lifestyle blocks, and Ross says that even with newer, faster machinery, he’ll never be able to achieve the bale-rate per hour of a few years ago.

He laughs about an instance a short time ago when he was doing some shopping in a nearby department store. While standing at the counter, he realised he was baling hay on that very same spot no more than a couple of years ago – a graphic indication of the rapid change and growth of Auckland.

Tanco round bale wrapper

Allan agrees that the days of high bale-rates are long gone in the Auckland area, saying that once (and only once) he managed 750 bales in an hour. He reiterates that it was under perfectly dry conditions and was back in the days when paddocks were significantly bigger.

Able to operate all manner of contracting equipment, Allan augments his baling business work by driving truck and trailer units or hopping on a digger and doing earthworks for local contractors. It makes for a varied and interesting life.

Like his dad, Allan has been driving tractors for as long as he can remember. He fondly recalls an occasion when a fantastic opportunity presented itself back in 2008 when his parents took an extended holiday to England and left him in charge of the baling operation for an entire season.

It may be old but it’s reliable

"The phone never stopped ringing while my folks were away, and it seemed like all the local (and not-so-local) landowners wanting cutting, raking, conditioning, and baling – all done during the same particularly fine spell of weather."

The work was hard and the days long, but Allan loved the work and it wasn’t long before he had a tractor of his own, along with some conventional baling equipment.

Changing times

Allan with son Blake, Ross and their tractors

As we sit having a cuppa, both men have plenty of yarns to share. It’s obvious they have all the ingredients in place for running a successful agricultural contracting business and manage to combine working hard with having a heck of a lot of fun.

Ross, with more than 50 years of baling under his belt, says things have changed dramatically since 1963. In spite of having a brush with thyroid cancer earlier this year, which has left him audibly challenged volume-wise, he still has a passion for his work and has only taken a minimal amount of time off to recuperate.

Ross Kerr-Taylor at work

Over the decades, Ross has seen improvements made to the tractor’s power plants, increasing horsepower ratings from the old MF’s 35hp to the point where a 150hp machine is considered by some to be ‘minimum power’.

He also laments the fact that loads of hay can no longer be transported without the need to tie the load down, even for short journeys, saying it’s entirely possible in this day and age to get ticketed for an insecure load if a small amount of grass blows out from under a tarpaulin.

With road speeds of modern vehicles having increased, he says you’re more likely to get ticketed for driving too slowly on an older tractor that’s only realistically capable of travelling at 30km/h. To that end, these days he tends to only accept jobs that are closer to home.

On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for Allan to travel an hour or so to a job in his Case IH 5150 with a mulcher on the back, as he reckons the 40km he can travel in an hour at full whack is still economically viable.

McHale mini bale wrapper

However, for baling work, he tends to stick close to home due to the logistics involved getting all the associated equipment to and from the job.

The distances he’s willing to travel could well increase in the near future, as there’s a distinct possibility that there could be a newer, faster tractor on the horizon.

Allan’s reasons for upgrading aren’t entirely mercantile, although it’s likely there’s an element of succession planning in there somewhere. The real reason for the decision is rather more personal.

Like his father and grandfather, Allan’s three-year-old son Blake is tractor mad but isn’t currently able to ride along due to the fact none of the fleet is designed to carry passengers. Most likely it won’t be long before there’s yet another tractor in the fleet; one fitted with a passenger seat.

Notice that I didn’t say there will be a replacement tractor on its way, because if you look at the existing fleet, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that once a tractor (or any other piece of equipment) is purchased by the Kerr-Taylors, it’s almost certain to wind up in the fleet permanently.

Allan says that although his dad is still fit and healthy in spite of his cancer surgery, they’re likely to employ another operator to help to share the workload. That is until young Blake is able to step into the role, but that’ll be a few years off yet.

Both Ross and Allan agree that their father-and-son relationship in the hay and silage business works well for them. These days, Ross tends to do the conditioning and raking, while Allan does the mowing and majority of baling side of the operation for round and conventional bales.

The new Kuhn 310 mower

A new addition to the inventory is a Kuhn 3.1-metre mower, which has been getting more than its fair share of use since its purchase at the beginning of this year.

It’s quite apparent by looking at the Kerr-Taylor inventory list, that they’re fairly keen on Kuhn machinery. Both Ross and Allan have had an exceptionally good run out of the brand over the years.

Aside from hay and silage, Allan says there’s plenty of work out west with an increasing equestrian presence and an increasing amount of 10 acre lifestyle blocks. This leads to plenty of requests for pasture work and mulching for horse paddocks.

When not baling, there’s ample work around the area doing weed spraying, applying liquid fertiliser and carrying out general ground cultivation. Ross and Allan operate a four-rotor conditioner and a gyro rake, so can do some pretty decent windrows.

They’ve also recently purchased a portable weighing machine to ensure customers are getting the correct weight of hay with their purchase. With changing weather patterns, the challenge is the small windows of opportunity to get the job done often in a short time.

As soon as the weather is right, jobs need to be done as quickly as possible so it’s a case of kissing goodbye to any sort of social life.

Changing weather patterns or not, the grass still continues to grow and you can bet your boots the Kerr-Taylor fleet is going to grow along with it.

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