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

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

As winter has fully set in for most of the country, indoor jobs that often center around machinery maintenance are popular and beneficial at this time. The most popular items to work on are usually the tractors, balers, or harvesters. All of these deserve plenty of attention to have in tiptop shape for the upcoming season. One item in a haymaking arsenal that typically gets left out of a major tear-down event is your mower.

I’m not sure what it is about these units that either makes them seem intimidating or bulletproof, but in both cases the result is little or no attention paid to the mower. Aside from a little grease and changing out a few knives and discs from time to time, that’s about all that these units get — if they are lucky.

I feel the opposite when it comes to mowers and windrowers. These units are the first gear in your operation, and if the first gear isn’t spinning, the rest of the haymaking machine won’t be at its efficiency peak.

Heart of the mower

Maybe it’s the manufacturers that have started this trend with the “lubed for life” cutterbars. Sure, it does sound great not to have to change out the oil or grease in your cutterbar, but when I really think about it, there is cause for at least some concern. The cutterbar is the heart of the mower and should be treated as such. Let’s not pull out every gear each winter, but annually draining the oil or cleaning out the grease from the pods can tell you a lot about the health of your mower.

My dad and I were going through our mower-conditioner one winter and called our dealer to order some of the special grease that went into the cutterbar. The dealer did not even have any in stock. This tells you how many times people around us checked their cutterbar. He even asked why we were doing it, and we said just to make sure everything looked okay.

Sure enough, most all of the grease in the pods looked great . . . except for one. In the problem pod, the grease was jet black, and, upon further inspection, we noticed some discoloration on the lower bearing. Obviously, this disc had gotten hot at some point. We chose to replace the bearing in the hub, refilled it with grease, and never had an issue with this mower for the next eight years that we owned it. Maybe nothing would have happened, but we did not want to find out in the middle of cutting a field.

I recommend you look into changing out the lube in your cutterbar about every 3,000 acres. Once changed the first time, you can determine if you think you should change it sooner, or maybe it looked great, and you can get closer to 5,000 acres per change.

I look at it like changing the oil in your truck. You can go longer between changes, but eventually it usually catches up with you. Rebuilding a complete cutterbar can cost over $10,000, but with proper cutterbar maintenance and the skid shoes beneath that protecting it, you should never have an issue.

Don’t stop at the cutterbar

This same approach can be taken with the gearboxes. Neither the drive gearboxes nor the cutterbar take much oil, so the main expense is just your time.

Usually right in front of the main drive gearbox is the slip clutch. This is a good time to inspect it as well. Regardless of manufacturer, they all have specs for the friction discs, and most have a rebuild video that can be viewed online.

Be sure to inspect each yoke and cross on the driveline for any excess play or wear. Again, it’s a lot easier to change these in the shop than the field.

For a pull-type unit, the hitch also should be inspected, especially the units with a gearbox used as the main pivot point. These gearboxes are usually extremely reliable. Most use a wet seal between the two sections that can eventually get low in oil. So, remember to check this and make sure the hitch components are not excessively worn as well.

It’s only a few months away before mowers hit the hayfields. Make sure yours is in the best operating condition it can be. In the meantime . . . stay warm.

This article appeared in the February 2020 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 24.

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