Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Combine Harvester Pre-Harvest Routine

Combine Harvester Pre-Harvest Routine

Think of your combine as SpaceX and there's every chance your harvest will be trouble-free. Here we provide an action plan for a smooth lift-off.  It's all there from checking to see the lights work to inspecting the threshing mechanism, drum or rotor.

Note the plastic spout extension to load trailer at a distance

Prepare your combine for harvest now

Time spent on the combine before harvest is many times more effective than spending time on the machine once the job has begun. Yet many farmers somehow forget this, doing a minimal oil change grease and check over. They don't want to look for problems that take time and money to put right. It's a costly way to manage this all-important operation.

This article comes from the experience of a number of combine contractors, all who contributed independent ideas - many thanks to all. The aim is to get your combine, whatever age and specification, tuned and ready to go without stopping. Now is the time when you can do the job when things are relatively quiet, away from the pressure of harvest.

Now’s the time to closely inspect the big components. Hair-line cracks in the drum, damage to the rotor, a worn discharge auger can be properly fixed with either farm or outside staff.  Better done now than have failure in the middle of harvest.

Oils need servicing early.

Hydraulic oil quality is worth sampling and sending to a lab and changing if advised. If there has been a pump or motor failure it is more likely to be contaminated.
Engine oil needs changing now if you didn't do so when you put the machine away. Why? Because oil stood in the sump will separate to sludge at the bottom and deceptively clean oil at the top. The sludge is the first lubricant to circulate, and can block an oilway so a part of the engine runs dry. Disaster. (The author writes from experience).
If you change engine oil in Sept/Oct at the finish of harvest the sludge hasn’t formed. Fill with fresh oil and one job is done. Leaving the sump dry over winter will do seals no good.

Combine electrics are prone to damage. Rats, squirrels and others find grain where there is also some tasty wiring. A pre-harvest checkup should test all the combine functions and problems can be sorted rather than ignored. Vermin will also bite through coolant hoses and these need careful checking as well as testing. 

Chains are another major component. Check the auto oiler is working and see if the oil is getting through to each chain. Older machines that rely on the driver’s oil can can be modified with a home built auto-oiler - not difficult to make which reduces chain wear.  Practical Farm Ideas Vol 14 - 1 has a home made one for a baler, while in issue 1 - 1 there’s an auto-oiler on a Standen beet harvester. Both involve a reservoir, a mechaincal pump and plastic pipes to drop the oil on the chain with greatest efficiency.

Drive belts and tyres are other parts that can’t be ignored.

Combine shakers and straw walkers vibrate and are liable to break down. They’re not built for life-time use. Cracks can be welded to keep them going, but they need regular inspection to provide a forecast of what is likely to happen. Similarly the cutter bar and header needs close pre-harvest inspection and repair.

Essential tools and spares for combine harvesting

Tools and spares are worth sorting out pre-harvest. Having parts that tend to wear out over time, like bearings, chains, belts, sprockets, sickle sections and injector lines reduce downtime as the team is on stop while they are located and collected. Wear on some of these parts can easily be caught by visual inspection.
Then there are the tools you need to fit them. Combine contractors can have a full set of belts; a belt-tightener pulley; connector links, half links and chains; sickle sections and guards for the cutterbar; drive chains for the heads; and fingers for the header auger. Engine and hydraulic oil, assorted bearings, bolts and nuts, and welding rods.
Other important, although less obvious, tools that are needed includes the combine service manual and a parts catalog. Also include a ladder to get up the side and a sharp knife to cut wrapped straw.

Fire prevention

Around 80 combines get burnt out in the UK each year. The victims are often modern machines, and this is explained by their high pressure fuel systems - a leak has diesel squirting at high pressure near red hot engines. New combines are as vulnerable as older machines. Fuel tanks are made of plastic; there is a lot of oil on board. The large machines can burn for some time before the driver knows about it - maybe a justification for fitting a camera.

Have a leaf blower in the cab

Modern combines operate in a cloud of dust and chopped straw, which means very regular and effective cleaning. One contributor to Practical Farm Ideas carries a leaf blower in the cab and blows off chaff as many as four to five times a day. Another has fitted a compressor and tank which makes it easy to blow off screens and accumulated chaff.

Auto fire extinguisher

Most combines have a standard fire extinguisher, but few have fitted an auto extinguisher like FireTrace which we first described some 20 years ago. The simple idea means the initial flame sets it off and it squirts at the base of the fire. Remember the fire of London started as a small fire in a bakery in Pudding Lane, and Grenfell was an overheating refrigerator. 

Prevention through effective cleaning is clearly the best approach. Keeping the machine clean is a vital part of operating it.

Daily maintenance is best done in the morning

Much better to do the daily service and essential inspection in the morning when you’re not dog tired and can do it in daylight. But in the evening, once you have shut down the engine, a five minute tour to check if anything is running hot makes sense.
Check engine oil, hydraulic oil, grease the 10 hour ones every day of not more frequently.
Also, inspect and clean screens; open concave door and clean: inspect belts; clean windows.

Winter maintenance checklist

Start with this partial checklist covering the major parts of a combine. You can also check with your service manager for a complete checklist.
    •    Wash and wax.
    •    Check all lights.
    •    Tighten all belts as needed.
    •    Check water pump bearing/tensioner for wear
    •    Tighten all belts as needed.
    •    Look for cracks in the belts.
    •    Check all chains for tightness and wear.
    •    Check feeder house chains.
    •    Check elevator chains.
    •    Check bearings.
    •    Check the feeder house floor for wear. It may need to be replaced or rebuilt.
    •    Check the concave for excess wear.
    •    Inspect the drum bars for straightness and wear.
    •    Check the conveyor auger bearings for wear and dryness.
    •    Check fountain and unloading augers for wear.
    •    Check walkers and bearings for cracks and general wear, or check the rotors. Look for excess wear and check the alignment and bearings.
    •    Check the total condition of the straw chopper (hammers, knives, shell, rotor). Is the chopper properly balanced or does it shake excessively?
    •    Weld any and all cracks.
Take advantage of any combine meetings run by your dealer.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Economic self-sufficiency will be farmers'​ new goal

Like many, I've been trying to make some sense of it all. You know what I mean and what's on my mind, and like everyone else, it's a new experience. 

To me it really does feel as if all the world’s a stage. There’s no need to explain why… the life of every human, in every village, in every country across the globe is effected by a single variety of microscopic bug. 

We have become news addicts, amateur microbiologists, and look for the power of prayer to turn the grim statistics on the graphs downwards. Have we reached the peak? Will there be sufficient PPE for the hospital staff should I get it? We have become fearful of everyone, family and friends as well as strangers. Have they been close to anyone carrying the virus? 

Authority becomes agitated with people breaking the rules, the guidelines, the swiftly written laws. Incongruously it’s mounted policemen on well groomed hunters who patrol the parks for sunbathers and the under 2m joggers. 

The global shut-down has unbelievable consequences. Flower growers in Kenya are dumping 50 tons a day. Half the Colombian coffee crop is unpicked. Global milk prices collapsed simply through distribution changes. With empty roads and clear skies oil prices have gone from $75 to under $30/barrel. 

On the farm, life is unchanged. This spring, the busiest season for any farmer, is being kind to us farmers. Lambing has generally gone well in good conditions, and this spell of warm weather will bring them on a treat. Cows too have got some decent grass under them, and spring calving sucklers have got it good. Crops look better than expected, though some are wanting some rain. The plants and animals have no clue of the change in their environment, and a good thing too.

This week I took a call from a farmer who said that, when he’s on the farm, he finds himself forgetting all those ghastly events on the TV, in the paper, on-line. 

“You focus on the job in hand, checking stock, crop walking, fixing something. On the farm here there's a lot to look after and help along, and thankfully the virus should be no-where near”

Despite that, these global events are going to have a huge impact on his farming, and in the not too distant future. Economic recession will have consequences on prices and values; heavy support will be needed for many industries and government services including the NHS, just the same as it was for farmers in foot and mouth.  

Since the start of Practical Farm Ideas in 1992 I have promoted self-sufficiency, from an economic standpoint. A part of that was making things to make the farm work better. I often say that the welding classes allowed me to reduce the quantity of string which held the farm together, but in fact the bits of kit I bodged together helped increase yields and reduce costs at very little expense. Over my PFI years I have seen changes made by innovative farmers which have increased their profitability hugely. In the next issue I have an organic farmer in Ireland who has near doubled his organically grown spring barley yield by doing it differently. The challenge is to make these and similar changes on your farm. 

Economic self-sufficiency is going to be the new goal for many farmers, and this magazine will do all it can to help show the way, as it has done for the past 27 years. 

 4,500+ ideas devised by working farme

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What UK Farmers need to look out for after Coronavirus.

Too much to take in

What’s the big story for today? The virus? The lock-down of UK plc? The FTSE crash? Not much else is getting a look-in. Even Greta Thunberg, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew have all lost the lime-light. You'll have difficulty in finding anything on farming. 

And maybe that's because, compared with many other sectors, farming isn’t such a bad business to be in. We work from home anyway. Mostly, we live isolated virus-free lives. We can endure a few  months of restricted movement. 

Demand for farmer's products looks pretty solid and certainly hasn’t disappeared like it has for airlines. Neither are we looking a shed loads of equipment being parked up like their planes. 

So far we are not facing shortages of inputs, and the cost of some of these, like red diesel, is on the decline… if only slowly. 

And, to cap it all, our non-cap basic payments are assured for this next year.  Lots to be thankful for. 

Looking ahead 

Looking further ahead and the view becomes somewhat murky. Forget climate change, further controls on chemicals...  and the main issue is the change in payments. The public money for public good. It’s the next big issue for farmers.

Future Practical Farm Ideas issues will be looking at what this means, and we have made a useful start in the Financial Focus of the current issue. It takes a broad look at the decision to go for what we have called 'eco-money' or continue farming as before. 

It has similarities as whether to go organic. So much depends on the soil you farm. Years ago I visited a farmer near Newent who went organic and found he was getting better arable and grass yields than before. In passing he told me the top soil across much of his farm was as deep as his 3C digger could reach. I had 12 inches where I farmed in Wales, which is why I never thought seriously about it. 

Workshop projects for the next issue

Being confined to barracks means no farm visits, which are the backbone of each issue of Farm Ideas.

The new issue will be done via farmer contacts, with pictures being emailed and the story from phone calls. It’s not impossible, but clearly depends on farmers finding the time to volunteer.  

A fencing trailer is needed on every farm. This one is featured in the current issue   and carries all the tools, a lot of wire and a reeler, posts and rolls of netting. If your fencing tools are all over the place this could be the coronavirus project which stands the test of time

Please contact me if you have a workshop project or idea which can add to our content. Where ever you are!   M:  07778877514   

 the farming optimiser - since 1992

 4,500+ ideas devised by working farmers

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Intro Pack £24.20  £20.00

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus: how long will livestock marts remain open?

I wonder how long livestock marts will be permitted to continue?  It’s a fast moving story. The disease is in escalation mode, schools will be closed from this Friday. The question on many livestock farmers' minds is whether livestock marts will follow suit.

Farmers who use marts might be asking what the near future holds, and so I asked the NFU what their take was on the marts remaining open. Their reply seems as if they are expecting life to stay as normal. 

So auction marts movements shouldn’t be disrupted but obviously we’re now being told to avoid busy public places – we’re just advising farm businesses to take the lead from the advice that’s given by the authorities.” 

was the response from their press office. If the advice changes the result would be considerable. Video auctions are a likely substitute, conducted by existing companies and new ones.   

Two livestock marts close doors

In the past couple of days we hear that two marts in N Ireland; Saitfield in Co Down and Armoy on Co Antrim have stopped sales “with immediate effect” on Mar 16, “in the interest of health and safety of our customers and staff… their health is our main priority” In NI the mart at Ballymena is having a normal sales calendar in line with government recommendations.

The Spring selling period might be a problem

Buyers and farmers wanting to move stock on before spring are making marts very active. While marts in England, Wales and Scotland are continuing to trade, all are restricting visitors to those directly involved buying and selling. Like many marts, Melton Mowbray has spread its wings to hosting various food fairs, sales of all kinds, including fur and feather, and even weddings, and these are all cancelled. Concern about closure might have contributed to their busiest day ever with 650 cattle and 4,500 sheep. 

Viral soup in Chinese markets 

UK livestock marts need to be concerned because it's the markets in China which have been fingered as the source of the coronavirus disease. In Wuhan bats and snakes are possible culprits. The markets sell a wide variety of live animals which are bought for immediate slaughter and consumption. Numerous species in cramped conditions are good for viruses to mutate. 

China has been the source of many zoonotic disease outbreaks, where a virus jumps from animals to humans. The growing popularity of wild animals for food is barely regulated in China and other parts of Asia. They are brought in from the forest and there is no regulation. Poor regulation in markets means that diseased animals are penned in close proximity to healthy ones of different species. At a recent conference former WHO specialist Dr Jonathan Quick said “When you have this viral soup and you have a collection of pigs, poultry and bats, such as in the Wuhan mart, you have a perfect incubator for novel disease.”

Practical Farm Ideas

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Low cost lamb warmer takes little time to make

Made it Myself ideas for early January

LAMBING is just around the corner, and this lamb warmer will come into its own. 

Instead of a static box that's away from the ewe, here you move the heater into the pen. 

The barrel holds the heat and when the lamb gets strong it can walk out and get a feed from mum. 

The creep gap stops ewes from getting in. 

Heat is controlled by adjusting the height of the lamp. 

You can also fit a timer switch so it goes on and off. 

It's so cheap you can make as many as needed.

Before switching on get someone to check your wiring:
1.   to see the power is connected to the correct terminals
2.   to make sure the cables are routed out of reach of sheep so they don't chew
3.   is connected to a circuit breaker 

Other equally simple ideas for January:

*  Waste oil drainer and collector

*  Slurry pipe handle

*  Large spanner holder

The current issue, #111 Vol 28 issue 3  carries 41 workshop projects

The cover story:

Irish farmer has fitted two cameras on his front mounted mower. Turning onto the road is now 1000% safer.

The finance article:

Getting a financial grip:  Managing farm borrowing

Get this issue as the first of your subscription
   only £18.50/year  which includes postage. 

Best wishes

Mike Donovan, editor & publisher   website updated Dec 24, 2019