Torture Test

Montana’s Carey family asks a lot of their MacDon rotary Windrower.


If you’re old enough you may remember the old Timex® watch commercials from the 60s and 70s. They’d always feature one of their watches subjected to all sorts of wacky torture tests, like being strapped to the front of a speed boat or fired through a plate of glass on the front of an arrow. In all cases, the watch “took a licking and kept on ticking.” Well the story of the Carey family’s new MacDon M200 R80 Rotary Disc Windrower is not that much different. It too has been put through a torture test of sorts, succeeding in conditions that defeated many other swathers.

The family’s ranch – called the Dunn Canyon Cattle Co. – is located along the North Boulder Valley in Montana’s portion of the Rocky Mountains, about an hour northeast of Butte. Here the Careys raise about 500 head of beef cows on about 8,000 acres, 7,000 of which are reserved for grazing and the remainder for growing alfalfa and grass. The ranch is run by Chris and his wife Sandy, who represent the fourth generation of his family to be ranching this land. In working their ranch they also get help from their three sons Brian, 25, Bo, 21 and Justin, 19. Brian works full time in Bozeman while both Bo and Justin are attending college and intend to return to the ranch full time when they finish their studies.

“This isn’t the greatest place in the world to be raising hay,” admits Chris Carey. “Our machines get a pretty good test around here. They get about every kind of cutting you can imagine. On one end of a field we might have some grass hay that’s six feet tall and just a nightmare to cut, while on the other end the grass might be only 12" high, but just as hard to cut because it’s so short.”

Add to that the Careys’ constant battle with rocks, pocket gophers and downed crop from high winds and the trampling of elk, antelope and deer, and you have just about as challenging a situation as any hay machine has a right to be in.

Making matters even worse was the 2010 growing season, one of the coldest and wettest in recent memory.

“In a year like this where you get some moisture and those molehills or pocket gopher mounds get very wet and hard, the cutting can get really tough. In conditions like that our old machines would plug up so bad we would have to wait a couple of days to get going again.”

But not with the new MacDon rotary unit.

“Even under these conditions gumming up is just not an issue; we just keep a rolling. In theory I’m sure you can plug it, but we just haven’t yet. That’s been a night and day difference for us.”

Another night and day difference for the Careys has been the significant speed boost that they’ve enjoyed from the new unit.

“We’ve pretty much gained a week. Normally our harvest takes about 220 hours, but this year we’ll probably finish up around 150 – some seventy hours less. I don’t know what we’ve done with that extra week, but we certainly didn’t spend it sitting in the swather.”

Chris says that the time saved is due to a number of factors. First, they are able to harvest much faster in the field, even though Chris tends to run a swather slower than its limits just so he can “think a little bit.”

“No matter what crop we put it in we’re gaining at least twice the capacity. We’re able to cut alfalfa at maybe six or seven miles an hour, where as with the old one we’d maybe run three or four miles an hour. On the other spectrum we have some grass hay that gets so tall and thick you can’t imagine how anything can cut it, especially if it is lodged a little bit. In that we’re probably cutting at three or four miles an hour where as before with the other machine we were cutting at one mile an hour.”

The Careys have also picked up time due to the lower maintenance requirements of the M200 R80 package.

“The maintenance part of it is also better. Most of the bearings are 25 hour rated, where on our older one they were 10 hour. That makes quite a difference as we can now go two or three days without stopping to grease.”

“We also liked the idea that it would be easier to deal with the knives rather than the sickle. Changing them out takes significantly less time. With all the mole hills we’re probably changing the sickle a little more often than most people. That adds up to being a pretty good job in itself, and the new machine cut our time dramatically on maintenance.”

Finally the extra power provided by the M200 tractor has also been an important factor in maintaining speed on some of the Careys’ steeper fields.

“We’ve got a couple of pivots that are on really hilly ground, and with the old swather when you were cutting up some of the steep hills you had to really slow down to keep being able to cut. But with this one there isn’t any issue. It doesn’t matter if you're going up hill or on flat ground, you’ve still got an abundance of power.”

In addition to the speed advantages, the new R80 rotary has also performed surprisingly well in other areas.

“Quality of the windrow is really important to us. Our old MacDon 9300 [mounted with a MacDon 920 auger header] probably gave us the best windrow for baling we’ve ever seen. Real uniform, square sided windrows. We were concerned that when we went to the rotary the windrow wouldn’t be the same quality, based on what we have seen from competing brands.”

“We have seen cuts stripped, so much so that you think you could go in there with your MacDon and make another windrow out of the hay that’s left over. We’ve also seen another competitor’s pull-type rotary have a lot of issue with chopping the hay up too much and then drive it into the ground when it comes out of the conditioner. That makes it hard to pick it up with your baler.”

“But, we’ve had no issue like that with our MacDon R80. Anytime we turn one of our windrows over it looks well formed – certainly much better than anything we’ve seen over the fence.”

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