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Equipment Hub: Mower and mower conditioners adjustments

Brandon Pfeuti and David Pauli for Progressive Forage Published on 31 March 2020
Conditioner adjustments

Forage quality is a top priority when it comes to feeding cattle.

Whether you are putting your efforts toward higher milk production, a better rate of gain or selling quality hay, you are looking to reduce dirt and ash incorporation into feed and maintain as much nutritional value as possible. There are many ways unwanted dirt and ash can end up in forage, but there are proactive steps you can take to minimize them and also help ensure you are protecting the natural value of your forage during the harvest process.

Many producers start by working with a nutritionist and agronomist to determine the right variety or mix of forage crops that will give the best nutritional value to their livestock. Once a good stand is established, hay is typically cut with a mower or mower conditioner, then tedded and/or raked or merged, harvested with a forage harvester or baler, and finally, stored for use. Each of these steps allows opportunity for incorporation of dirt and ash into forage, but for now, we will focus on the best practices during the cutting process.

The first step in producing high-quality forage begins with the right cutting equipment. A clean cut is vital to keeping ash out of your feed. The first thing to check is that the machine is level or the hitch height is correct, whether the mower has a drawbar, 2-point attachment or is fully mounted. This will allow the best ground following with effective suspension and proper ground pressure. Running the cutterbar as flat as possible, or having the shallowest angle to the ground, is very crucial in keeping the crop clean. With a steeper angle, you are more likely to draw dirt through the machine and deposit it into the crop. This can also lead to a wavy cut and uneven stubble height.

Optimal cutting height varies in different crops and conditions. You would typically cut alfalfa between 2-4 inches. Grasses are typically cut a little higher. In general, a taller stubble height will provide a cleaner crop and promote quicker drydown and better regrowth for the next crop. Raised skids are often an option to raise the cutting height in certain situations while maintaining the flat angle of the cutterbar. You adjust cutting height manually, or in some cases hydraulically, giving you the opportunity to change the cutting height from the cab. This is particularly beneficial when mowing different crops throughout the day.

Along with cutting height, you should also consider cutterbar ground pressure. Keep both field conditions and ground speed in mind when setting the pressure. It is best to start with a lighter ground pressure setting to keep the cutterbar from plowing as it passes through the crop. In wet ground conditions, this is particularly important. If the cutterbar starts to float and skip with increased ground speed or rougher conditions, an increase in ground pressure is the answer.

When using a mower conditioner, there are a few additional adjustments to keep in mind. On a machine with a finger conditioner, you can adjust the rotor speed faster or slower. This adjustment is valuable when mowing crops such as alfalfa or clover where a slower speed helps prevent the loss of nutritious leaves. When mowing grasses, you can speed up the rotor to increase rubbing of the stems for a well-conditioned crop. With a rotor conditioner, an adjustable hood can provide a narrow or progressively wider gap for the crop to flow through. A narrower gap will provide more intense conditioning, while a wider gap will allow higher throughput in heavy crops.

A machine with roller conditioners, whether rubber or steel rolls, has a couple different adjustments similar to a finger conditioner. Rubber and steel rolls are usually intermeshing, so the ribs or edges of the rolls make a crimp or bend in the stem of the crop to condition the hay for faster drydown. The adjustments on these types of machines are roll gap and roll pressure. You want to adjust the roll gap based on throughput. You will narrow or widen the gap for differing volumes of crop, as well as travel speed.

Roll pressure goes hand-in-hand with roll gap. More tension on the roll pressure adjustment leads to more aggressive conditioning of the crop. Less tension on the roll pressure adjustment allows the rolls to open up easier for higher-yielding crops to flow through the machine with less conditioning. When adjusting the gap and pressure, you must also pay attention to the roll timing. It is important that you do not lose the proper timing between the ribs on either the rubber or steel rolls. Loss of timing will lead to premature wear of the rolls and will cause an increase in roll noise, especially when the conditioner is running with no crop flowing through it.

Conditioner adjustments will vary between operators and their crops and conditions. The objective is to get the machine adjusted to what best suits your needs for crop volume, drydown time, conditioning intensity and harvesting window.

Once you have your conditioning adjustments set, you can adjust the windrow width. You can adjust windrow width from a narrow windrow to a wide swath. Depending on type of crop and the climate, you may choose a narrow windrow to keep moisture in. This will be best when harvesting for silage or baleage, or, if you are in a very dry climate where the crop can get too dry for harvesting. Alternatively, you may want the swath as wide as possible to get more surface area for the sun and wind to dry the crop in order to harvest in tight weather windows.

With the many ways mowers and mower conditioners can be set up and adjusted, there is much you can do to tailor your machine to best suit your operation. With the goal of producing high-quality forage, it is important to keep dirt and ash out of the crop and harvest in a timely manner. Choosing the correct mowing equipment and taking the time to adjust the machine properly will result in better performance in the field, higher-quality forage, and increased profitability for your operation.  end mark

PHOTO: Conditioner adjustments will vary between the type of operator, machine, crop and condition; however, by changing your conditioner’s intensity, you will be able to produce the highest-quality forage to best suit your operation. Photo provided by Kuhn North America.

David Pauli is a technical support specialist for Kuhn North America.

Brandon Pfeuti is a hay tool product specialist for Kuhn North America.