Minimize your forage harvester downtime

By Adam Verner

The author is a managing partner in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. He also is active in the family farm in Rutledge.

Adam Verner
Now that cold weather has arrived, it offers plenty of time to work in the farm shop.

Winter is the time to go over equipment from top-to-bottom and make sure it is ready for spring. Most people have a plan for servicing equipment themselves while others rely on assistance from their dealers. Some manufacturers even offer incentives to bring machines to your local dealer for service.

I suggest taking advantage of the opportunity to have an experienced mechanic look over your forage harvester. There are lots of dealers that offer parts discounts on the shop work they complete and for the parts you order to stock shelves at your farm.

One of the most extensive winter checks that we perform is on forage harvesters and heads. This inspection can take a few days, depending on the chopper. Our technician goes over each machine guided by a 20-page checklist. The list is almost too involved for most owners, but we encourage those who want to help with the inspection to do so. This allows the operator to become more familiar with their harvester. This isn’t a practice that will work for everyone or for every machine, but we have several customers who prefer to observe and help during the inspection.

Dealers offer different options when it comes to completing winter service. Most dealerships find that their mechanics are far more productive in their own shops rather than at the farm with the customer. So, some dealers have offered to split payment or completely pay for the hauling of the machine to and from the dealership. Even so, the cost of shipping the unit can usually be a wash if you must pay for a couple service calls to your farm to complete the work.

Start in the cab

Let’s go over a few of the areas that we cover while completing a chopper inspection. One of the easiest places to start is in the cab. Operator comfort on those 12-plus hour days is important. Be sure to check the windshield wipers, fluid, and the often neglected cab air filter. Clean the air intake as well. Double check all air conditioner components such as the evaporator and fans while inspecting the top of the cab. Once in the cab, remove all the panels on the console to inspect the wiring and for cleaning. Make sure there are some spare fuses stashed away in in the panel for emergencies. Operate all of the lights to make sure they are functioning properly.

Next, let’s get to the meat of the cutter — the intake system. Each manufacturer has its own way of feeding, cutting, and processing, but they all do the same thing. Starting at the feed rolls, check the bearings and the fluid levels on the gearboxes. It’s also a good time to check the universal joints that supply the power to the rolls. The smooth roll scraper on the back can often be overlooked during the season, so winter is a good time to flip or change the bar. Also, check the electrical components of the feed roll housing, namely the metal detector and rock protector to make sure they do not have any damage and are functioning properly.

Once the intake is complete, we usually move on to the drum and inspect its bearings and knives. In south Georgia, we typically don’t have to change our knives until after winter annuals are chopped, but every part of the country and every machine is different. Many operators choose to start out the year with a new grinding stone, and there is no easier time to take it apart than when the intake housing is off the harvester. We also manually grease all of the grease banks and fittings and inspect the auto-lube system to make sure every fitting is taking grease.

Whether the kernel processor is in or out of the machine, inspect the rolls, springs, and bearings for any play, chips, or wear. Make sure that wear liners are not worn through after pulling the processor out of the harvester.

On to the blower

Inspect the blower and remove any build up on the paddles or in the accelerator housing. Be sure to check the blower bearings closely as they drive other aspects of the machine. Also, when inspecting the pulleys that drive each belt, make sure there is nothing packed in the grooves of the pulley, which can cause vibration.

Moving on to the transition and spout, inspect the worm gear and spout pivot point for wear. The liners in the spout and the hydraulic cylinder on the flipper should also be checked for wear and functionality. Most units are using cameras, and now is a good time to clean them and make sure there is no damage to the cables running up the spout.

The drive components, main gearbox, and cooling section are major parts of the harvester and dictate how many tons can be processed each day. Be sure to check the main drive belt for any worn spots or separation, both of which can be a source of vibration. Most main drive gearboxes have some sort of filtration system that needs to be changed annually. This is also a good time to inspect the precleaning screen and brushes on the air intake if installed. This screen is one part that has caused at least a few hours of down time for everyone who has cut silage. Carefully check over the engine. The engine mounting bolts are often overlooked but take as much abuse as any bolts on the unit.

The hydraulic system can be complicated and may require extra assistance from your dealer to check for the correct pressures at the test ports. Jacking up the cutter to test and calibrate all drive functions is also a good practice. Running the complete system to calibrate the lifting cylinders, drum angle, central lubrication, and spout is important. If no error codes show up, then you have had a successful inspection. Finally, be sure to retorque all wheels and drive components, and then make sure all fluids are at recommended levels.

All of this seems like a lot of work, but the time spent in the shop during the winter translates to less down time in the field next summer.

This article appeared in the January 2022 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 27.

Not a subscriber? Click to get the print magazine.