Chopper maintenance and operating tips that can improve corn silage harvest

Dan Hansen
Leon Stahel, left, of the Swiderski service team provided tips for producers when making the switch from the chopper’s hay head to the corn head.

BIRNAMWOOD, Wis. – As farmers transition now from chopping hay to chopping corn silage, there are some important maintenance and operating tips that can help make harvesting more efficient and productive.

As part of the recent corn silage field day conducted by Swiderski Equipment on the Schairer family farm west of Birnamwood, Leon Stahel, a member of the Swiderski service team, provided valuable information for producers when making the switch from the chopper’s hay head to the corn head.

“Because guys have been running their choppers for three or four crops already, it’s important to look at all the wear points,” he stressed. “When you put the corn head on be sure to check all your oils, and if they look bad you need to drain them. Also make sure there’s no metal in the oil.”

Stahel also advises taking a close look at the sharpening system. “Make sure your stone is all there, and check your feed roll system, making sure there’s no damage after chopping all those minerals through the summer.”

The chopper’s processor is another important item on the maintenance checklist. “The gap must be adjusted correctly, and check that the processor belt isn’t damaged, so you make it through the first 100 acres of corn,” Stahel said.

Inspecting grease lines to insure they are properly connected is also important. “Otherwise your bearings won’t get the grease they need. And the tires should be in good condition and properly inflated,” he added.

Stahel recommends putting the corn spout on the chopper. “It’s nice to have one on for corn, but it pays to take it off when chopping hay. It really does make a difference in hay if you take that extension off and put the wide spout on. For corn, when you put on the spout extension and narrow the spout, it helps make sure all the feed gets in the truck.”

We often seen a truck or tractor and wagon running behind the chopper, but Stahel doesn’t recommend this as a regular practice. “You can chop over a truck or tractor cab behind you when opening a field, because then you can’t have a truck or tractor and wagon next to the chopper. While most of these units will blow silage to the back of a 40-foot semi, they don’t do a good job of pulling wagons. They’re too tall. They’re really designed to have trucks or wagons running beside them.”

Many of the new self-propelled choppers feature GPS and auto-steer for improved harvesting efficiency.

Good communication

Proper communication between the person operating the chopper and the person driving the truck or tractor and wagon beside it is vital to harvest efficiency, according to Stahel.

“We put a lot of two-way radios in these units to keep that communication going, which is especially important for those doing custom harvesting to ensure all the crop goes into the box and not back into the field,” he said.

He notes that operators using a closed communication system can sometimes experience interference from the other electronics in the cab. “The guys who are running marine band radios don’t seem to have a lot of interference. With a marine band system, communication is limited to 7 or 8 miles in hilly terrain, but with a closed system, the range extends a lot farther.”

GPS also aids in communication and harvest productivity Stahel says. 

“The new choppers have GPS and auto-steer. What’s nice with the new ones is that while you’re planting you can put a USB stick in your tractor, and when you’re chopping you can put that stick in the chopper, and you already have the field boundaries in the chopper,” he explained.

“The auto-steer will then be acclimated to that field. You can turn on the auto steer and project the chopper to go across the field at a 5- or 6-degree angle, and that way you’re picking up an extra row about every three rows,” Stahel said. “Because you’re not driving perpendicular to the corn it’s also easier on the tractor and truck driver, and because you’re still kind of chopping with the corn, you’re actually more efficient and productive.”