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Mechanics Corner: Maintain your hay and forage equipment

Bob Hammitt Published on 20 November 2013

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The fall and winter months are ideal times to assess your equipment.

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It’s wise to do a full inspection of your equipment before it’s stored away for the winter months so it will be ready to go in the spring.

Regular inspections help eliminate downtime for all equipment, but it’s particularly important for hay and forage machinery.

First, downtime can be incredibly costly if you miss out on baling during optimal moisture conditions.

It’s essential that your equipment is up and running during the window of time when the hay is not too wet or dry.

Second, hay baling is a very dusty operation – dust and plant material collect in all nooks and crannies of the machine. This material then collects moisture, which over time can cause rust and corrode the surfaces of the machine.

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The material may also encourage mice and other rodents to build nests in the machine, allowing them to chew on electrical harnesses and belts or hoses.

When the hay season wraps up in the late summer or fall, it’s the perfect time to have the machines cleaned, inspected, adjusted and repaired. A good cleaning will prevent rust, discourage rodent infestation and make a good inspection of the machine much easier.

Compressed air is the most effective method for removing chaff and debris from the machine. A portable leaf blower with high-velocity air can also work well.

Be sure to wear eye protection whenever air is used. Do not use water to clean the baler, as any water-soaked debris left behind can accelerate corrosion.

The following general inspection tips will help you maintain your machines. As always, your dealer is the expert on your specific machine, and it’s smart to contact him for detailed service work or additional advice. These tips will apply to most brands of square balers.

Before beginning any machine inspection, always consult your operator’s manual for proper safety procedures.

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Smart tip 1: Make sure your baler’s safety equipment is in place and functional
Inspect the baler to make sure all safety shields are in place and functional, including PTO shields. Replace any shields that are missing or not functioning properly.

Be sure all warning and safety decals are undamaged and readable. Check the SMV emblem for damage and reflectivity, and replace if damaged or faded. Inspect safety chains and replace as needed. If equipped with a fire extinguisher, check to be sure it is fully charged.

Smart tip 2: Inspect the pickup and feeder area
Inspect the pickup assembly and replace any bent or missing tines and pickup bands. Check the pickup cam track for damage and inspect the cam bearings.

Check pickup flotation and adjust as specified in your operator’s manual. Inspect the packer fork, crank and plunger bearings and timing.

Smart tip 3: Inspect the bale chamber and knotter
Check the plunger bearings for wear, flat spots, missing seals or roughness when turning, and replace as necessary. Inspect the slides for wear and adjustment.

Sharpen and adjust plunger and stationary knives, referring to your operator’s manual for proper adjustment. Check the plunger gearbox mounting hardware to ensure mounting bolts have not loosened.

Check end play on the knotter stack and adjust as needed. Excessive end play may cause accelerated wear or breakage of knotter parts. Inspect the billhook for excessive wear, rough edges and burrs.

If worn excessively, replace it. If there are rough spots or burrs, file smooth and finish with emory cloth. Check the twine discs for excessive wear and adjustment. See your operator’s manual for adjustment instructions.

Smart tip 4: Baler timing and shear bolts
Proper baler timing ensures the correct stuffer-to-plunger timing, needles-to-plunger timing and knotter timing. These systems are protected by shear bolts.

It’s important to replace these bolts once a year and check them regularly to ensure a snug fit. If the bolts fail in the field, they can cause significant machine damage and require re-timing, resulting in expensive downtime.

Replace them according to the instructions in your operator’s manual. Be sure to use the manufacturer-recommended hardware and torque to the correct specifications for proper function.

Smart tip 5: Wheels and tires
Check the tires for damage, cracks or dry rot. Remove the wheel, clean and inspect bearings, shafts and seals, and repack the wheel bearings.

Reinstall the wheels, being sure to torque the wheel bolts to the proper tightness. When storing the baler, place boards under the wheels to get the tires up off the ground.

Smart tip 6: Miscellaneous
Inspect the structure and welds for any cracks. See your dealer for any necessary repairs. Check all belts for cracks, fraying and excessive wear, and replace as necessary. Inspect pulleys for proper alignment or damage and adjust idlers and tensioners.

Check drive chains for excessive elongation, binding and rust or corrosion and, if necessary, replace with high-quality roller chain. Make sure drive chains are properly lubricated with a high-quality chain lubricant.

Check drive and idler sprockets for wear and proper adjustment. Always replace chains and sprockets at the same time, as worn sprockets will cause premature wear on new chain and vice versa.

Inspect all hydraulic lines, hoses and cylinders for leaks, wear or damage, and repair or replace as necessary. Close hydraulic cylinders if possible or weatherproof to prevent rusting.

Check any hydraulic reservoirs and gearboxes to make sure fluids are clean and free of contaminants, including water. Check fluid levels and fill with the appropriate fluids. Lubricate all machine grease points to prevent water intrusion.

In conclusion, hay and forage equipment is an investment, and maintaining your equipment is the best way to protect it and make sure it holds its value. For additional peace of mind, have an expert technician inspect your machine.

Many experts will give you a certified maintenance inspection decal for your equipment to symbolize completed service – this can increase the resale value of your machine.

If you’re worried about cost of these services, ask if your dealer can offer guaranteed pricing so the cost isn’t a moving target.

By combining self-inspection and routine maintenance with expert dealer service and advice, you will be more than ready for a successful season in 2014. PD

Photo by PD staff.

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