Valtra T202 powers Queensland leucaena chopper

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Queensland contractor David Alsop and his son Sam are rejuvenating their leucaena shrubs and keeping their cattle fat and happy by using a custom-built chopper mounted on a modified Valtra T202 tractor, and say they can’t think of any ways to improve the combo.

Valtra T202 powers Queensland leucaena chopper
The Valtra T202 tractor with the leucaena chopper attached.

Sam and his wife Casey have taken over the running of the family business, Leucaena Chop, which Sam started with his dad David eight years ago. They are based at their home in Biloela, Central Queensland.

Leucaena is a shrub in the legume family and is grown for cattle feed. If not managed correctly, it can grow into a tree.

There are more than 300,000 hectares of leucaena currently grown in Queensland, and the crop is becoming increasingly popular because it suits the climate.

"With our weather conditions here the softer legumes aren’t as successful," David says. "Leucaena has been developed for more than 40 years in Australia. Our main reason for planting leucaena was to improve our annual live weight gain on our cattle, which we have achieved."

David says leucaena is planted in rows 6.0m-10m apart, with grass in between the rows. The cattle graze both the leucaena and the grass.

Central Queensland has mainly dry winters, so the grass mostly grows in the wetter summer months. While the grass gives a flush of protein on spring and summer rains, the protein level drops and the energy level increases as the grass dries off.

By contrast, the leucaena leaf can be up to 26 percent protein throughout the year.

"Our hayed-off grass stays standing in the paddock in the winter so we have the protein and energy combination which keeps the cattle gaining weight," David says. "We have observed an increase of 30-40 percent in annual live weight gain since planting leucaena.

"Leucaena can become a tree, and we saw the need eight years ago to develop a machine to chop the leucaena and keep rejuvenating the plant. The machine we developed takes the wood out of the plant and by doing this we can increase leaf production by 400 percent."

David and Sam have had their Mark 4 version of their leucaena chopper for three years and are extremely happy with it. They modified a Valtra T202 tractor and fitted the home-made chopper on it and have done about 2000 hours with the combination.

"AGCO helped us out about five years ago to get into our present tractor, a Valtra T202," David says. "The reason we chose the Valtra is we drive the tractor backwards, and it’s the only company in the world that does a bi-directional tractor in the size we needed."

The Alsops have made some other modifications to the Valtra T202 as well.

"We put a radiator cleaner off of a header on the front nose of the tractor. We have to clean the air before it hits the radiator because we make so much sticky, green, leafy rubbish as we chop the leucaena. The cleaner works very well."

They have also fitted the T202 with smaller, filled forestry tyres, replaced the glass in the cab with polycarbonate to minimise window breakage from the flying debris, and added belly guards underneath and a lid over the roof.

"The chopper is mounted at the rear of the tractor with modified linkage and is hydraulically driven by a heavy duty 1000 RPM pump," David says. "The chopping rotor arm swings out over the row of leucaena so that the tractor can be driven between the rows.

"We designed and built the chopper and we’ve been very happy with it. We do not chop the crop for harvesting. We designed a glorified mulcher and we chop the leucaena when it’s gone from the leafy stage to the woody stage.

"We just cut out the wood and any leaf, which is mulched and left on the ground. The plant then regenerates leaf that the animals will eat. We normally chop it every three or four years."

Sam and David are still grazing leucaena that was planted 18 years ago and which has been chopped three times.

"We’re very happy with the Valtra tractor and the chopper. If we built another machine we wouldn’t do any major modifications," David says.

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