Traditionally, aside from working width, when buying a new combine, many farmers gave little consideration to the header options available. However, wanting to find a header better suited to lodged crops and challenging conditions, Kildare tillage farmers and contractors Eugene and Garrett Headon this year opted to go down the route of a MacDon FD130 FlexDraper header having followed the brand since 2017.
Many manufacturers for a number of years have offered alternative options when it comes to combine headers – the most popular being the draper conveying type over the conventional auger type.
More recently, a number of manufacturers have developed more sophisticated headers to suit more challenging European topography, crop types and conditions. Many headers are now designed with flexible cutterbars and/or the ability to articulate in more than one location across their entire working width to adapt to field contours. Claas and John Deere are prime examples, having both brought draper models with flexible cutterbars to the market in the past three years, aimed towards European conditions.
Many English farmers have gone down the route of a flexing draper header in recent years. One such brand making notable inroads there is MacDon. Although not widely known in Ireland, Canadian manufacturer MacDon specialises in combine header and self-propelled windrower production.
Making the switch
Over the past 10 or so years, the Headons have run a mix of Claas and New Holland combines. They used Claas in the early to mid-2010s before transitioning to New Holland from 2015 on. For 2020, a new New Holland CR8.80 was purchased, as they made the decision to go back down the route of a rotary combine, based on throughput.
“Over the past 10 years we never found the perfect header. Regardless of brand, none seemed to work real well for us. Bulldozing was always an issue, the wider the header the worse it was. Clay would build up around the skids and before you knew it the cutterbar was pushing clay ahead of it on one side and nearly above the crop on the other. In laid crops this was even more of an issue because the cutterbar needs to be closer to the ground if it’s to get under the mat of crop.”
Keeping a close eye on their English counterparts as well the market, the lads liked the idea of the MacDon FlexDraper and how it seemed to be performing. Having travelled to Agritechnica in 2017 and 2019, enquiries were made. When the combine was changed to the New Holland CR8.80 for the 2020 season, a MacDon was temporarily out of the question based on budget. The new combine came with a 25ft Varifeed header which worked OK but still not perfectly, Garrett says.
This season the Headons bought the first new MacDon header sold in Ireland, an FD130 FlexDraper model. Garrett feels this move couldn’t have been made at a better time now with most of the harvest behind them. The wet weather early on in August resulted in a quite a few acres lodging and a sluggish start.
“When we were buying the new header, Frank Jenkinson had just been appointed as the Irish importer for MacDon. We traded in our New Holland header and went for the FD130 30ft model because it offered stabiliser wheels and a split pickup reel. As well as that we felt an extra 5ft working width was achievable.”
Key to the FD FlexDraper series performance is the Float Module. Either side of the three-section header there is a set of coil springs which practically suspends it from its main chassis mounted on the feeder house. This allows the header, cutterbar and reel to follow the ground’s contours in its three individual sections. Meanwhile, constant reel-to-cutterbar distance is maintained, even when flexing up to 254mm (10in) at either end. The springs constantly react to changing ground conditions and support up to 97% of the header’s weight. The six plastic skids underneath allow it to float across the surface.
Garrett likes the simple mechanical float MacDon uses, which he believes is not dissimilar to the way a mower bed works. The instant float response provides 4.8° of lateral float and 178 (7in) of vertical float independent of the feeder house position. Only one sensor is present which controls the feeder house height if required. Everything else is mechanical. At the quick flip of a lever the header can be switched from flex to rigid.
Garrett feels the MacDon is proactive/ instant in changing conditions while most standard headers tend to be reactive, adapting too late. If cutting crops high, the skids are therefore off the ground. This is where the stabilisers come into effect and allow the header to still follow the field’s contours.
Garrett feels the low-profile C-shaped cutterbar plays a key role in the header’s ability to follow the ground so closely and precisely. The pickup reel’s unique cam design also plays a key role in picking up laid crop and presenting it right in front of the cutterbar, he notes. Each of the plastic tines is closely spaced at 100mm (4in). Hydraulic tilt control allows the angle of the cutterbar to be changed on the go from the cab to help get under laid crop, never engaging with the surface, even at its most extreme position.
Once crop is cut it then falls on to the 1,067 (42in) wide side drapers before being fed head first on to the 2,007mm (79in) wide feed draper and from there into the elevator housing. Garrett says the crop is better presented for threshing, which is noticeable from the swath of straw left behind. The upper cross auger does effectively the same job as an extendable floor on a conventional header – catching higher-standing crops such as oats or oilseed rape and delivering them to the feed draper.
Fitment and drive
The MacDon range of headers are available to suit all major makes and models of combines. Garrett says fitment was straightforward. All plugs and fittings directly coupled to what was already there. The only additional cable to be fitted and routed into the cab was to control the cutterbar angle – a feature not on the previous header.
The MacDon FlexDraper differs from most headers because it’s hydraulically driven instead of mechanically. The PTO shaft powers three separate hydraulic pumps using the on-board filtered oil reservoir. These individual pumps power the cutterbar, side drapers and feed draper. The reel is driven via the combine so that it can be controlled proportionally to forward speed. Garrett notes the header is edging on the heavy side at 3.5t.
With the harvest nearing completion and almost 1,000 acres threshed, the men are well pleased with the how the header has performed. “If there ever was harvest to test the header this was it. The heavy rain early on caused havoc with crops lodging, resulting in some regrowth by the time we got going. These 150-200 acres were where the header really came into its own. It allowed us to recover what would have been potential losses. Throughput didn’t suffer as result and what’s more we can now cut stubble as low as 3in compared to 6-8in previously, roughly working out at one 8x4x4 bale of straw per acre.
“The way it shaves the surface regardless of the contours is impressive, when you watch it even on what you’d class as reasonably level ground you can still really see it working. Not as much as one knife section has been damaged let alone broke which says it all.
“It hasn’t been a cheap investment but we see it as an implement that can be held onto while the combine is upgraded down the line.”
MacDon specialises in the manufacturing of harvesting equipment, in particular combine headers and self-propelled windrowers. Working in the industry for over 70 years, the firm’s manufacturing facility is in Manitoba Canada.
As of this year, F Jenkinson Ltd based in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, is now officially the Irish importer and distributor of the MacDon range.