Anyone who feeds cattle knows that the mixer, whether mounted on a truck or pulled behind a tractor, is an important part of getting the ration fed. Joe Kagay is on his fourth feed truck for his family’s 1,000-head yard in northwest Missouri. Currently he uses a 2005 model Harsh 375 four-auger box mounted on a 1992 International 4900 fourwheel-drive, and expects that he can get more life out of it.
"We try to do a complete service on the box monthly and watch for developing problems daily," he says. The time spent on maintenance is probably not more than two hours per month, but over the years, he’s seen the addition of higher-moisture coproducts in feed rations add to the wear and tear on feeding equipment.
Equipment manufacturers are aware of it, too. They have adjusted to account for this trend, which is likely to continue as long as corn prices remain high.
"We have seen a large increase in the use of coproducts being used and run through our TMR mixers over the past few years," says Tim Osterhaus of Kuhn North America.
"The mixer manufacturing industry has responded to this trend with changes and updates to the equipment in order to mix these materials faster and more efficiently, and have added strength to the machines in order to handle those heavier materials."
Even if a new feed mixer isn’t in the cards this year, as with Kagay, there are some maintenance tips farmers can use to help extend the life of any type of feed mixer.
Grease. Keep bearings well-greased, especially those that have direct contact with the mixer body, since moisture from the feed can work its way through to bearings. The more grease in the bearing, the better it is protected, Osterhaus says. The same holds true for gearboxes and other rotating parts that have direct contact with the feed. Make sure oil levels are correct and that oil in the gearbox and chain case gets changed at the correct intervals.
This will ensure that the oil is clean and not being contaminated. Also, take care of leaking seals so moisture does not damage any external parts, says Matthew Digman, an agricultural engineer at the University of Wisconsin.
"Regular maintenance grease points on TMR mixers generally include universal joints, driveline bearings, and door guides and linkages. If your machine relies on grease lines, take some time to follow each one to its delivery point. Check both lines and fittings for leaks. There are also a few yearly grease point jobs on these machines, such as repacking wheel bearings and load cell mounting tubes," Digman explains.
Chains. First, clean off any dirt and grease that may have accumulated. Dirt-laden grease can be highly abrasive, causing unnecessary wear to the drive components, Digman says. "While cleaning these areas, take a moment to check sprockets for excessive wear or for evidence that the chain has not been riding properly on the sprocket," he says."These signs could indicate a misaligned sprocket, excessive chain elongation or simply the need to adjust the chain tightener."
Knowing that mixing feed creates a dusty environment, some manufacturers opt for automatic oilers or partial submersion of the chain in an oil bath. This is the type of equipment that Kagay uses, but he admits he doesn’t change the oil very often.
"For automatic oilers, make sure the reservoir is adequately filled. Additionally, it is important that the oil dripper or brush is properly positioned over the chain," Digman
"For oil baths, the oil level is also important. If the level is too high, it may indicate that the oil has been contaminated with water or feed ingredients. In this case, make sure
the oil bath is properly sealed and that shaft seals are in good repair," Digman adds. "Finally, make sure apron chains are adjusted properly and tracking well. Adjustment usually entails taking up slack on either side of the conveyor until the conveyor’s slats are restricted to a specifi ed amount of movement from the conveyor floor," he says.
Digman advises anyone who does their own maintenance to check the operator’s manual for specific recommendations from the equipment manufacturer.
Use. Too much weight, which can usually be attributed to very wet, heavy ration materials, can shorten the life of drive components, tires and other mixer parts, Osterhaus says.
Do not let mixers sit loaded with feed throughout the day or overnight, he adds. This is one of the situations that can "wear" a mixer out.
"When a mixer is being used and the materials are loaded and mixed, there is abrasion and normal wear," Osterhaus says. "While the moisture levels do not really have a huge impact on the wear levels, the amount of acid in different feedstuffs can. Leaving these materials loaded in a mixer for long periods of time can actually corrode the mixer and cause as much or more wear than when one is using it in a normal fashion."
Along the same lines, Osterhaus advises cattle feeders to watch for material buildup on the inside of the mixer. The wet, sticky materials of coproducts can build up along the edge and inside the mixer body, especially in cold weather, he says. This can affect the mixing quality by not allowing the feed to move properly, or can just plain get rotten in warm weather and affect feed quality.