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Staying Ahead

Custom cutter Bobby Craig stays ahead of the pack with MacDon Windrowers.

Custom cutter Bobby Craig is constantly looking over his shoulder to check a windrow, a feeling many hay producers would understand. 

“When our two swathers are running we not only have two silage choppers following us, but also maybe 10 to 20 semis, plus four packing tractors and the support teams,” said Craig from his home base near Nunn, Colorado. “If just one of our machines goes down, we’re shutting down 10 to 15 people from work. It’s a lot of pressure on us just to keep running.”

Currently running a two windrower business with ambitions to grow, Craig starts out at the beginning of April in Muleshoe, Texas and then follows the work wherever it takes him, usually shutting down operations near the end of October.

“It’s a fairly long season. We’ve got our regular contracts but we’ll also pick up anything else we can get just to stay busy. I’m pretty lucky though to be doing something that I enjoy; there’s very few days ever that I get up and I am not excited about going to the field. During the winter I’m usually chomping at the bit to get going again in April. 

Craig got his start in custom cutting working for Clayton Befort Harvesting out of Hays, Kansas, before moving out to Colorado to start his own business five years ago. While he does manage a few acres of his own with his wife Angela near Nunn, Craig says that 90% of his work is custom.

“I’ve been around agriculture and harvesting my whole life, but these days it’s just so hard for a young guy to go out and start from scratch. Custom cutting was a good way for me to farm and be in agriculture without having to buy as much land.”

Since going into business for himself, Craig says that he has been loyal to MacDon swathers for a number of reasons.

“I’ve run many of the competitive windrowers, but since I’ve owned my own business it’s always been MacDon primarily because of the quality of their cutting and their reliability.”

“All of the dairymen and farmers that we work for want to see their fields looking like a clean mowed yard. It doesn’t matter if the crop’s laying flat on the ground or standing up pretty, they always want to see everything picked up and a very clean cut. Thanks to our MacDon's we’ve been able to take pride in always being able to deliver that.”

Beyond the quality of the cut, one of my biggest worries every day is to go down. It’s really important that if you hit a rock or break a knife that your repairs can be done quickly.” 

Because they are always under pressure to be moving fast in the field, Craig says that they make themselves extra vulnerable to field obstacles.

“It’s sometimes a little like a demolition derby for us. We can get into quite a few big rocks and chunks of concrete working for those dairies down in Texas. It’s not uncommon for us to hit a one foot round piece of concrete running 10 or 11 mph (16 or 17.7 kmh), but I would say that the longest I’ve ever been down from hitting something like that, at that speed, is about an hour. I always carry a full stock of parts for our headers, and because MacDon machines are really simple to work on we can usually get going again pretty quickly.”

While Craig has run MacDon M205s for the majority of his time in business, last September he took delivery of two brand new MacDon M1240 Windrowers mounted with D130XL draper headers (he also uses two R85 rotary headers in his operation). He promptly put the machines to work harvesting 3,000 acres (1214 ha) in New Mexico, an experience that has allowed him to fairly evaluate MacDon’s new Windrower offering.

“We’re very happy with our decision to go with MacDon again; MacDon’s just got everything figured out with these new machines. One of the biggest differences that we noticed on the M1240 was the new cooling system. When we used to be in alfalfa that got a little bit too mature, the rotary screen could not keep up with the amount of fuzz that was coming off the alfalfa. We would have to stop every four or five hours to blow out our radiators to keep them from overheating. Now with the way these new machines pull the air in, and with their reversing fan, that problem has been eliminated.”

Craig has also noticed a significant boost to their infield productivity with their new machines due to two factors; the M1240s larger power plant and MacDon’s patented CrossFlex TM suspension system.

“The increased horsepower has definitely boosted our productivity, but the new suspension has been just as important because it lets us keep our speed up in some pretty rough conditions. We’ve got some ground that we work in where they’ll pull corn off it in the fall and then they may rip the field up drilling in triticale right after. It’s tough going for the operator bouncing on those ruts every day, but the new suspension system has changed all that. I think it has cut the operator fatigue in half and I would even say that the wear on the machine will also be cut dramatically as well because it is not being jarred so much. It’s impressive really.” 

The new suspension is helpful on the highway as well.

“The machine feels much more stable for some reason, just because the swather no longer gives you that jolt where it just launches you when the front wheels catch a little hump in the road. For us, the CrossFlex suspension is daylight to dark different in the ride of the machine.” 

One thing that has really surprised Craig with his M1240's is their fuel efficiency.

“Even with their increased productivity our fuel consumption has been cut almost in half from what we were getting with our M205's.”

“It’s impressive that even with our D130XL headers and their increased capacity that we’re only burning about three tenths of a gallon per acre (2.8 litres per ha). I think the boost in horsepower has meant that the machine doesn’t have to work as hard, that’s the only thing I can figure why we’re burning way less now. We were really excited about that.”

“The larger fuel tank on these machines also made a huge improvement. Before when we were running a rotary header if we started at 7:00 in the morning, then usually by 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon we were stopping to fuel up. Now we may be able to finish out the entire day without fueling up. That can save us an hour every day not needing to stop to fuel. Over a 30 day period that can really add up.”

Craig is also very happy with the upgrades that have been made to the M1240’s cab, including 360 degree night vision lighting.

“I really like the new harvest monitor and the ability it gives us to preset our floats and everything. I also just love the air conditioned and heated seats. I’ve got  a really bad back and even though it’s one of those things that I don’t whine about, it’s something that I do feel. But the new seat has really reduced the fatigue on my back. If I’m running a 20 hour day the seat’s heating and air conditioning becomes something really important to have.”

“The machine’s night lighting is also a big improvement. At night it’s really important that we are able to see in all directions, especially out the back to see the stubble we are leaving. With the new lighting package everything is lit up; there’s not a dark spot around the machine at night.”

Craig says that he is not the only one that has been impressed with his new M1240's.

“Everybody that I have cut for has been really impressed with the machines. I cut up against a competitive machine down in New Mexico and I was cutting a good 40% more a day than that other guy. Our new M1240’s really made us shine on that job just because we never had to stop.”

It’s performance like that Craig believes will be instrumental in him growing his business.

“Every year we keep taking on more acres and eventually I wouldn’t mind being up to four or five swathers. If we continue to put in the work and our machines help us look good, we’re bound to grow.”