While as a relatively young man I can think of better ways of enjoying myself, there is no doubt that, for the mundane task of loading a muckspreader and cleaning out a lambing shed, JCB’s diminutive wheeled loader the 406 Agri is an entertaining proposition.
Barring the fact that the chaps at JCB had failed to fit a radio to the test model, there are few serious complaints about the machine.
Climbing into the cab is not hard and once there the full glass surround gives mostly excellent visibility. Although once the attachment is lowered below the top of the front wheels there is some guesswork in judging how much lower you can go before ripping out chalk floors.
Rear visibility is also good and with only limited distance from the rear of the cab to the 406’s derrière, the chances of scraping the rear end against a stanchion are limited. Fitting a downward-facing mirror to the top of the cab would eliminate any chance of it.
Fitted with a 56hp four-cylinder Deutz engine, the 406 generates plenty enough power for the task in hand. But a little more torque would not go amiss for working on slippy floors and when barging the bucket into large heaps of material. Indeed its ability to force its way forward in a relatively easily moved pile of manure was limited and had it been a more testing material the 406 might have struggled.
Where it really scores is manoeuvrability. Having been used to the cumbersome nature of a rear-wheel steer 1988 JCB Loadall Farm Special, the pivot-steered 406 was a revelation, particularly in a building festooned with poles and stanchions. Wrapping a standard telehandler around one of these usually results in bodywork damage.
But this tool weaves its way round the building’s structure more athletically than a dancer at Peter Stringfellow’s infamous establishment, significantly reducing the amount of manual fork work needed in nooks and crannies.
The positioning of the handler arms does reduce the field of vision to the fore. But this is more about acclimatisation, and in an hour or two it seems standard and is really little different to a fore-end loader.
The transmission is a two-speed hydrostatic system with the forward/reverse shuttle on top of the loader joystick. This is initially a disconcerting location for users familiar with other applications being mounted there, but one which you soon become used to.
Changes in direction are easily made by flicking the shuttle, with sudden changes made on the move resulting in a small upwards jerk of the front end, although not enough to cause any serious upset.
Loader and attachment controls are simple enough, with the main four – up, down, crowd and tip – controlled by joystick direction. Extra controls required for attachments such as a grab or three-in-one bucket are, however, annoyingly managed by a separate lever to the right of the joystick.
The same lever also operates the machine’s quick hitch, a system ideally suited to attaching pallet tines or bucket, but limited in its usefulness for a grab, as the operator is required to dismount the machine and flick the diverter valve to the grab’s hydraulics to operate the open/close mechanism. Failure to do so can lead to the embarrassing scenario of the grab dislocating from the loader mid-lift.
A simple spring-loaded locking mechanism as featured on much earlier machines would do as well once the operator has dismounted.
So, where does the 406 fit in the grand scheme of things? There is no doubt it will have its fans and its uses, it will suit those with awkward shaped buildings and the need to move bulky materials into nooks and crannies.
At £26,095, it is competitively priced, but adjusting buildings to suit larger machines may be more economic for some.