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Are You Ready? Prepping Hay Equipment for the Season

Is your equipment ready for baling season?

Is your equipment ready for baling season?

Once the warm weather kicks in, forage grasses and legumes have a way of reaching prime cutting height a lot faster than even veteran haymakers can predict. Make sure your hay equipment is ready for deployment sooner rather than later.

Clean Up Tasks

Ideally, everything underwent a thorough cleaning before winter storage. If not, you’ll need to remove the old hay debris before the new season — by sweeping or using air pressure on balers, mowers, conditioners, rakes and tedders. Stickier accumulations, like the sap from alfalfa stems, may need hosing down and scraping.

Basic Automotive Inspection for Hay Equipment

Tractors and specialized hay equipment benefit from an annual inspection very similar to what cars go through every year. Check the levels of gearbox oil, hydraulics, coolant, brake and battery fluids. Depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations, you can top up some of those fluids. Others will need replacing after so many hours of operation. But even if your tractor hasn’t hit the magic number of operating hours, its oil needs changing at least once a year. The same holds true for all filters.

After draining out the old oil, look for such contaminants as metal filings, which can provide early warning of engine problems.

Like cars, tractors and specialized hay equipment need their moving parts lubricated regularly. Apply grease to all zerk points.

Check battery terminals and spark plugs for buildup and clean where needed. Measure battery voltage and recharge if necessary.

Inspect all tires for signs of wear. Adjust air pressure to meet recommended levels.

Nuts and Bolts

Hay equipment takes a lot more abuse than the average family car. Repeated passes over a bumpy field can loosen nuts and bolts on mowers, conditioners, tedders, rakes, balers and the tractor itself. Tighten any loose nuts and bolts.

Cutting Equipment

Cutting equipment not only dulls with weather and use, but wears unevenly. On disc mowers, rotate knives to maximize their life. Worn out knives (and any worn turtles covering them) should be replaced.

Examine the spacing and timing for the rollers on conditioning equipment. Adjust, as needed.

The knife clearance and plunger alignment on rectangular balers may similarly need adjusting.

Rakes and Tedders

A season of haymaking can misalign rakes and tedders. Before the first spring cutting, make sure the pickup height is optimal for the crop to be worked. Even out that height across the rake or tedder width.

Bend misshapen tines back into alignment. Replace missing or broken tines.

Round Balers

Subjected to a higher proportion of crop weight, the center belts in round balers have a tendency to stretch. At the start of the new hay season, cut any of these longer belts so that all belts are at the same length — to ensure tight bale density and conformity.

The pin or cable fasteners that hold belts together are particular weak points. Most baler manufacturers recommend replacing these fasteners at least once a year.

Examine the belts for holes and major cuts, caused by rocks and other sharp debris.

Look for uneven belt wear. Edge curling will make the belt camber, rubbing along belt guides and accelerating the fraying process. You may be able to re-size unevenly worn belts or realign them by adjusting the rollers. Cut off any frayed belt strings to prevent them from tangling in the rollers.

Slide your hand along each belt’s surface to make sure it can still grip the crop. If the surface feels too slick, replace the belt. Whenever there’s any doubt about the viability of a baler belt, it needs replacement.

Record Keeping

Take notes as you inspect your hay equipment. Jot down the number of hours of operation when items are replaced or serviced. This practice not only ensures compliance with the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, but also serves as a guideline for future troubleshooting.

Record signs of wear that may not need immediate correction, but will warrant another look in a few weeks or months.

Inventory the replacement parts and tractor supplies you have on hand. With up-to-date records, you’ll know when you need to restock such items as belts, fastening pins, belt lacing tools, oil, coolant, etc. Reorder sooner rather later, to reduce the risk of costly downtime at the peak of haying season.

How do you prep for the new season? 

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