How to set up and operate a mower conditioner

There are several pieces of equipment that can be used for cutting hay. But when it comes to cutting larger fields typically found in livestock and dairy operations, the two most commonly used tools are a disc mower or a mower conditioner. Both use similar types of cutterbars to cut the hay, but the mower conditioner does so much more.

Whereas a disc mower and other hay cutting tools just cut the hay, a mower conditioner cuts the hay, then conditions the cut hay by running it through a conditioning system that cracks or crimps the stalks to promote moisture evaporation and faster drying. The conditioned hay is then pushed out the back of the MoCo through forming vanes. The forming vanes and shields can be adjusted to shape how the hay coming out lies in the field.

In this video, we’re using a John Deere 5125M Utility Tractor (US CA) and a John Deere C350 Center Pivot Mower Conditioner (US CA), or MoCo. And we’ll be reviewing the basics of hookup, adjustment, and operation. Remember, for all the details about your tractor and mower conditioner, always read your Operator’s Manual and follow all operating and safety instructions.

Okay. Let’s get started.

First, follow your Operator’s Manual instructions for attaching your MoCo to your tractor based on the hitch system you’re using.

Then make sure the top of your drawbar is 13 – 20 inches (33 – 51 cm) above the ground surface. Somewhere in that height range the mower conditioner PTO shaft will run level and do a good job of cutting the hay at the height you want.

And make sure the distance from the top of the drawbar to the tractor’s PTO shaft centerline is 6 – 12 inches (15.24 – 30.5 cm).

Finally, measure the distance from the end of the tractor’s PTO shaft to the drawbar pin hole centerline. The MoCo PTO is either 540 or 1000 rpm. The distance should be 14-inches (35.6 cm) for 540, or 16-inches (40.6 cm) for 1000 rpm. Then attach the PTO, secure the safety chain, attach the hydraulic hoses, remove the jack stand and store it on the MoCo’s tongue.

Next, get back in the tractor cab and set the depth stop on the 3-point control. This allows the operator to return the mower conditioner to the same operating position every time the machine is raised using the 3-point hitch.

Time to set up the MoCo in three basic steps. Once you’ve completed these steps in the correct order, and assuming the conditions in which you’re working don’t really change, only minor adjustments will likely be all that’s needed in the future.

First, adjust the cutting height by adjusting the gauge shoes. Start by releasing the swing lock. Then swing the MoCo out into operating position.

Next, make sure the lock cylinders are locked by moving the locking lever to the horizontal position.

Step 1

Remove the locking pins to raise or lower the gauge shoe on one side. Then replace the locking pins to set the gauge shoe at the desired height. Make the same adjustment to the gauge shoe on the other side of the machine.

Step 2

Adjust the cutterbar tilt using the turnbuckle to angle the cutterbar up or down. There may be instances, like mowing downed hay, when you might want to set the cutterbar at a different angle. But typically, you want a nice, flat cutting angle for your cutterbar.

Step 3

Adjust the float, which keeps the machine’s weight off the cutterbar and on the float springs, allowing the mower conditioner to follow the contour of the field. Lengthening or shortening the large float springs on each side of the machine adjusts the ground pressure. Too much pressure and the MoCo will have a tendency to scrape the ground in places or leave gauge shoe tracks in the field. Too little pressure and the machine will have a tendency to bounce up and down resulting in an uneven cut. And remember, the side of the MoCo with the gearbox will be heavier than the other side. So the spring adjustments will need to be slightly different on each side.

Make those adjustments in that order – gauge shoes, tilt, and float – and you’re almost ready to go. The last important adjustments are to the windrow forming shields, which set the width of the windrow – and to the swath board, which controls the height of the windrow.

To adjust the distance between the windrow forming shields, just loosen the two handles, adjust the shields, and re-tighten the handles. Because we’ll be raking our hay, we set the forming shields almost as wide as possible to make a wide windrow.

Now comes the third and final step for mower conditioner operation – and the reason we’re all here – cutting hay.

Once in the field, set the MoCo up to operate off-center from the tractor. This way, the MoCo will cut the standing hay while the tractor moves over the swath of previously cut hay.

We’re using a center pivot MoCo. So we began by running the tractor along the outer-most edge of the hay field. After completing that pass, we moved the MoCo to the opposite side of the tractor, on the outside edge of the field, and began the next pass with the MoCo cutting back swath. In this fashion, the operator continues working in a pattern that becomes smaller and smaller with each completed pass until the field is cut. The tractor doesn’t run on top of uncut hay. And all the cut hay will lay in the same direction making the baling process more efficient.

After cutting just a few good yards of hay, stop and exit the tractor after following all safety procedures. Examine a big handful of hay that’s been cut and decide if you need to adjust the conditioning intensity. If so, turn the conditioning crank clockwise to increase the conditioning effect, or counterclockwise to decrease the conditioning effect. You can follow the adjustment change on the conditioning gauge.

Let the cut hay lay in the field until the next day, or when it is dry enough to rake and bale.

You’ll find several other videos here on Tips Notebook on various aspects of the haymaking process and other pieces of equipment you might want or need to use in your operation.

Don’t forget to always read the Operator’s Manual before storing or operating any piece of equipment, and follow all operating and safety instructions.

And remember, if you’re looking for equipment that’s built to get the job done season after season, year after year, you’ll find it – and all kinds of advice on how to use it – every day at your John Deere dealer.


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