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Everything Breaks Everywhere [Farming
Posted on August 4, 2015 @ 05:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher

For the last few days I was trying to make some hay at the farm. Unfortunately, my mower-conditioner broke down and then my backup sickle mower broke down. When I emailed my wife about my woes with my mowers, her comment was that "Everything breaks everywhere during haymaking".

The phrase "everything breaks everywhere" is a nice way to summarize the second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy. The fate of all matter is towards a greater state of disorder and all that stops it are our energetic interventions in the form of maintenance and repair.

The amount of entropy you must deal with goes up considerably when you own a farm (or any business with a significant number of physical assets). All the buildings and all the machinery are wearing down each year and choices must be made as to which degrading asset is the most important to maintain, fix or replace. The law of entropy is recognized in our income tax forms when we claim depreciation on our buildings and machines.

I try to keep a cool perspective on breakdowns and look for opportunities to learn from them. The old mower-conditioner I purchased a couple of years ago worked mostly without issue last year. This year, a bearing on the steel roller used to "condition" the hay (rinse moisture out of the hay like an old-time washing machine) could not take any more abuse and popped the drive belt probably because it was too hard to roll it with a faulty bearing.

I learned how to remove jammed hay from the front of the mower that probably occurred because the faulty bearing caused the drive belt to slip and the rotating drum with teeth that removes it (see below) not to rotate. You have to move systematically from the one side to the other removing hay as you go. If you attack the problem of removing jammed hay willy-nilly from different areas that look the easiest you could be there all day trying to remove the hay jam. Here I started removing jammed hay on the right side and am progressing towards the left pulling out the hay jammed between the cutters and the drum as I go.

After removing the hay, the drum still did not rotate so I measured the drive belt tensioning spring which was supposed to be 5.75 inches long and it was 8 inches long (2.25 inches too long). When the spring failed last year we put in another one in that was not the official sized spring but it worked. To tension the belt more I made a spacer and used it to increase the spring tension. The drum above the cutters rotated after this fix. I will remove it after I eventually fix the bearing to see what happens.

All of this seams like a waste of time when I could be mowing but the truth is I probably would continue to be fairly ignorant of how my machinery works without these breakdowns. In farming as in other businesses we learn from our breakdowns. Entropy sucks but it is a great teacher. Each breakdown teaches us a little bit more about our machinery and the types of things we need to do to better protect it from breakdowns and what parts we should have on-hand because they are prone to breakdowns or their breakdown will cause the machinery to become completely useless (e.g., drive belt). Some breakdowns such as hay pickup teeth only have a minor effect on efficiency when they breakdown so can be ignored until you have time to address them.

By early next week (when the steel roller bearing arrives) my mower conditioner should be back in action cutting hay again.

In the meantime my hay-making partner is using his mower to take down the hay in this field and we'll start putting square bales of hay in the barn today.

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