The Kawasaki Mule (multi-use light equipment) first saw the light of day in 1988, coining the generic name for a UTV (side x side).
Fast forward 20 years and now the industrious Dutch couple farm 114ha south of Lichfield in South Waikato and milk 300 Montbeliarde-cross cows typically found in France. These are larger framed than typical Kiwi crosses: they weigh 700 - 800kg, keep much better condition through the season, and importantly for Klaas produce at peak level consistently for long periods, typically producing 620kgMS/year on a diet of 75% grass and 25% maize and PKE.
Having used quads for many years, the couple were early adopters of a petrol-powered UTV (side by side) and although impressed by their capabilities were disappointed at the maintenance cost and high fuel cost.
Five years later the business took delivery of a new Avatar UTV powered by a 3-cylinder intercooled turbo-diesel engine — used by Renault — that delivers 66hp, with142Nm torque at 1890 rpm. Drive is through a 5-speed manual transmission sourced from a 1.5 tonne truck, reaching a top speed of 75km/h.
Suited to the rigours of agriculture, the machine’s powder coated frame and galvanised steel load deck uses double A-arm independent suspension front and rear with adjustable air/spring shocks.
Electronic, switchable 4WD offers the choice of 2WD or 4WD, the choice of front and rear differential locks and an electronic park brake.
Klaas says the high power/high torque engine combined with the manual transmission “allows us to travel at the desired speed at much lower throttle settings, unlike a CVT-style machine that requires more revs to go faster”.
“This makes the job a lot quieter, and the diesel motor is also very economical. At the other end of the spectrum, when we are using slow speeds, perhaps when feeding, the machine is very controllable and carries out the task with no fuss.”
Typical duties are transport around the farm, but the Avatar comes into its own during the calving season, when a purpose-built crate offers plenty of room for bringing newborns back to the yard. It easily tackles jobs like moving feed trailers and effluent applicators.
A load capacity of 500kg and towing capacity of 990kg makes the vehicle very capable; it stays level when heavily loaded and is adaptable, with fold-down panels on the rear bed to accommodate irregular shaped loads.
Although a sizeable unit, the Avatar is said to have the tightest turning in the industry, with electronic power steering, and its operator comforts include a three-person bench seat and front and rear windshields.
Klaas also likes the half-doors at the cabin entry points, noting that these were “initially a bit of a pain, but after a few days we realised they kept the cabin area clean and occupants’ legs safe by preventing them from putting their feet down before the vehicle stops. And after a while opening and closing becomes just an intuitive habit”.
Summing up the change to the Avatar, after nine months of ownership and with about 150 hours on the clock, the purpose-built machine has none of the weaknesses of ATV-derived competitors’ machines and is a valuable part of the farm’s gear.