My name is Mark Bones and I drive a 6 wheeled, 12 tonne Volvo truck for Carrs Billington.
My job is to deliver bulk animal feed to farms across the North of England. Based in Lancaster, I do most of my deliveries throughout Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Lancashire and County Durham.
My day always starts the day before. I find out what farms and what products I’m delivering the following day, and decide in what order I’ll visit the farms considering where they are, what time the delivery is needed and how challenging it is to access and egress.
I plan my route ensuring I can get to each farm safely and legally, allowing for weight limits and bridge heights. If I haven’t been to the farm before I have to find out exactly where it is, as postcodes in the countryside cover larger areas than in towns and cities, so we’re all expert map readers! Some seem impossible to find so I’d ask another driver who had been previously, so I don’t waste time or fuel. We all carry map books, and most are covered in crosses marking exactly where the farms are. In my first two years I have visited 790 different farms, it’s been a great way to see some of the lovely countryside our country has to offer.
There are four main types of product, nuts/pellets, blend, coarse mix and meal, which are loaded by the driver and a night loader. I start work at about 5:30am and my first job is to collect my paperwork and complete my vehicle checks. This includes walking the whole truck and checking that it’s fit to be driven on the roads, which usually takes about 15 minutes and involves checking oil levels, tyres and wheels, accident damage, lights and more, all listed on a document in the cab.
Then it’s off to the first farm. Along the way, road closures and diversions can be a challenge as a lot of the routes are on country roads, so building up a knowledge of ‘what road takes you to where’ is invaluable. A lot of the roads are also just about wide enough for a truck to pass and some bridges to farms have a clearance of a few centimetres on each side of the truck, so driving carefully and at the right speed ensures bumps and scrapes are minimised.
Once at the farm the next challenge is getting in. A lot of farms are hundreds of years old and were built with only horses and carts being used around them. Some are very tight to get into but if you take your time and use your mirrors (and a bit of skill!) you’re in. Here, it’s important to identify any potential health and safety risks – mainly overhead wires, broken drains, loose farm animals, slippery surfaces, and farm equipment. On most farms the farmer and their family live on the site and usually come and say hello, but on other more remote farms, the farmer could live miles from where you are and usually there’s no phone signal, so it’s vital you know what to do before you get there.
Next, it’s time to find out where the feed goes. Usually it’s either into a silo, up onto a loft (typically above a dairy) or just into a shed or barn. Once you’ve established where the feed is going, it’s time to unload. My truck has four compartments each holding about 4 tonnes. If the feed is to be delivered into a silo, I attach a large hose from the back of the truck and start the engine, engaging the delivery blower – which is extremely loud, so ear protection is imperative. Approximately 250kg is delivered every minute so a 4-tonne load takes about 15 minutes to complete.
Once the product has been delivered, an invoice is left for the farmer and the pipes and equipment are packed away, ensuring nothing is left behind. Once the truck is empty of feed, I go back to Lancaster for my second run of farms. At the end of the day I ensure my paperwork is handed in, the truck is fuelled and washed, and any damage or mechanical issues are communicated to the transport office. Finally, I collect my list of farms for the next day, plan my route and the day’s work is complete.
What I enjoy most about the job is the challenge of finding each farm, driving on country roads and the stunning scenery. I’ve visited some really old farm buildings, some are from the 17th Century, and have met some very interesting and eccentric farmers!
The challenges are road closures and long diversions, the changeable British weather and staying on two feet on farms! It’s a brilliant job and I find it really rewarding to know that delivering our feed helps farmers feed the nation.