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What’s inside your feed mixer? Keeping up with maintenance essential for feed mixers

Gayle Smith for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 November 2017
Feed Wagon

Is your feed mixer working correctly? One quick way to find out is by emptying a couple of packages of small marshmallows into the mixer while it is mixing other feed ingredients.

“You can see where the marshmallows end up as the feed is unloaded,” explains Brian Luck, assistant professor and extension specialist of biological systems and engineering at the University of Wisconsin. “If they are evenly distributed in the feed, you know the feed is mixing and unloading properly, but if there are a lot more marshmallows in one area than another, you may need to look further to see why your feed is not mixing properly” he says.

Routine maintenance and servicing are crucial to keep a feed mixer operating properly. Regular maintenance plans should include oiling, greasing and regular inspection of the machine and its parts.

“Our feed mixers are critical to keeping the cattle fed,” explains Ty Lauritsen of Lauritsen Cattle Company in Exira, Iowa. The family-owned feedlot uses two Roto-Mix trucks to feed approximately 5,000 head of cattle. “The feed trucks are very important because our cattle have to eat every day,” he says.

Maintenance is an important part of this regimen because of the number of wet and dry ingredients they use to mix a ration. “If we take care of it, one Roto-Mixer can last 15 to 20 years,” Lauritsen says. To keep the trucks in tiptop shape, they are fully serviced every 200 hours.

The air filter is changed every 100 hours, and they grease the box every week or two. “We routinely check the augers and paddles for signs of wear, but they will last a long time before they need replaced,” he adds.

Many items can wear and break on a feed mixer, which is why routine maintenance and a daily walkaround are important. “If you avoid the daily walkaround, you are just begging for trouble,” says Tim Janecek, general manager of Harsh International Inc., based in Eaton, Colorado.

“I’d rather take an extra five minutes to make sure everything is all right than spend five extra hours to repair something I should have caught in the first place,” he adds.

Proper maintenance, cleaning and lubrication are necessary, explains Luck. Even though it can be difficult to find the time, deep cleaning the machine once or twice a year may help pinpoint a problem that couldn’t be seen because the machine was covered in feed particles, dirt and mud, he says.

The owner’s manual should also be checked for maintenance recommendations, but a day-to-day walkaround may point out potential problems early. During this examination, the operator should check the grease points and oil levels, as well as the U-joints, chains and sprockets on the rear of the mixer for wear.

The tension on the chain and springs of the mixer should also be looked over, as well as the bearing on the idler. “Those are the type of things some people don’t even look at until they hear a grinding sound, and by then the whole bearing is gone,” Janecek says.

Other areas that may need attention are wear parts on the machine like augers, scrapers on the augers and kickers that push the feed out the door. “If you have knives installed on the augers, they can wear out and not work correctly,” Luck says.

The discharge mechanism, whether it is a slide tray, an auger or a chain mechanism, should also be inspected. “Make sure it is working properly before you get a whole load of feed on it and have to dig it out because you didn’t look,” Janecek says.

Service will vary by use, but a good, general statement would be every 10 hours if there is a power take-off driveline. “The real key to feed mixers is the drive train,” Luck says. “Generally, it starts with the PTO connection on the tractor or truck.

There are several gear reductions by either chains that run augers in the mixer or chains that run the feed delivery apron. There are some gearboxes that connect directly to some of the augers, as well,” he explains.

“From a driveline standpoint, chains can wear over time and break. Interaction with chains and gear teeth can also happen. The shafts, and anything spinning or with a bearing, could wear out,” Luck continues. The oil and grease in the gearbox should also be checked at regular intervals, as well as the gears within the gearbox, he says.

Is the scale reading accurately?

“I would recommend inspecting the scales every morning,” Janecek says. “Examine the scale system, especially this time of year when the weather changes, because mud likes to cling to it. The load cells can get frozen up or get mud in them, which can cause the scale system to start reading improperly,” he explains. “It is a big deal if you are charging for feed,” he notes.

If the ration is not mixing properly, Luck says the calibration may need to be checked. “If the scale is out of calibration or one cell is not working, it can add more or less material than what is required, causing improper loading of the machine,” he says. “You may have to contact the scale manufacturer or the company. If it is a cookie-cutter part that has broken, you may be able to replace it yourself,” he adds.

If any parts are replaced, the scales need to be recalibrated so they weigh properly. “Too often, mixers are delivered, and the scales are not calibrated. They could be off 20 percent or more,” Janecek says.

Examine the inside of the mixer

“Daily, or at least weekly, I would get inside the mixer and inspect the flighting and augers,” Janecek says. “Look for feed buildup or anything that might be bent or showing abnormal wear. Foreign objects like rocks, tire chains or even tires off the side of the silage pit have a way of working themselves into the mixer,” he notes.

“We get calls regularly that the mixer isn’t performing properly, and sometimes it’s as simple as a tire wrapped around the auger,” Janecek continues. “I tell my customers to look in there every day before they start feeding. Don’t assume just because you can’t see it and don’t want to climb up a ladder that everything is OK until you turn the switch on and hear a big bang,” he adds.

Safety checks are one way to keep items from ending up in the feed mixture that could harm cattle. Last year, one feedyard had cattle mysteriously getting sick and dying. They didn’t find out the culprit until the veterinarian posted the dead cattle and found battery acid.

“Someone had changed the batteries on a truck or piece of equipment and left the batteries to the side of the silage pit,” Janecek explains. “They got picked up by the payloader and put into the mixer, where they were ground up into such small pieces no one knew it was in the feed. Little things like that can turn into a disaster if you don’t take the time to look in the mixer,” he says.

Don’t be afraid to call a professional

“We get calls all the time to go out and do a walkaround with a new operator,” Janecek says. “In larger feedyards, the general manager may not be able to afford the time to teach someone how to run the new feed truck. Each one is different in how it operates, even if it is just a newer model,” he says.

“Maintaining a feed mixer is similar to an over-the-road truck driver who fills out a daily log book and does a daily walkaround before they get into the truck to start their day. They check all the safety and mechanical stuff,” he says.  end mark

PHOTO: Cattle are fed a mixed ration at Willow Creek Farms near Burley, Idaho. Photo by Paul Marchant.

Gayle Smith is a freelance writer from Potter, Nebraska.