A forage harvester is a piece of farm machinery that is used to harvest forage crops such as grass to process them into silage. Forage harvesters may be powered, which are known as self-propelled forage harvesters, or they may be towed from the tractor and be PTO-driven. Forage harvesters are sometimes also known as foragers, choppers or silage harvesters.
Whether they are self-propelled or mounted, the basic configuration is the same. They have a flywheel or drum that is fitted with a number of cutting knives. The chopped crop is then blown from the forage harvester in a chute into a wagon or trailer that can be attached or driven alongside the unit. Some of the larger examples of forage harvesters will also use paddle accelerators, which are used to increase cutting speeds and unloading performance.
When the wagon is full, it can simply be detached and driven back to the store or silo for unloading and processing. At the same time, a second wagon can be attached to allow the forage harvester to continue with its work uninterrupted. Different forage crops have different characteristics that require different cutting techniques, and the forage harvester can be fitted with different cutting heads that can be attached and removed easily. Grass silage, for example, is often mown prior to being harvested. The forage harvester is then fitted with a collection head, or windrow pick-up, to harvest the grass once it has had the opportunity to wilt.
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In the case of maize and some other types of whole-crop silage, the crop is cut directly by the forage harvester's header. This unit uses reciprocating knives, disc mowers or sawtooth blades to do the job. Where the machine is being used to harvest cereal crops, it is often fitted with kernel-processing units. These modules have a pair of mill rolls, with teeth that are forced together by springs. Theses teeth crack the kernels of the crop being harvested. The kernel-processing unit is positioned between the accelerator and cutterhead, and it can be swapped out and replaced with a standard grass chute when not in use. Towed harvesters can have single, double or precision chops and may be electronically or hydraulically operated or via a cable.
The towed type of forage harvester is most common on small to medium-size farms, but the larger operations are now moving towards self-propelled forage harvesters. These usually will have a tractor or truck moving beside the forage harvester and trailing a wagon to take the harvested crop. These machines can get extremely powerful, with some boasting engines of more than 1,000hp and capable of cutting swathes 11 metres wide. They can process up to 400 tonnes of silage in a single hour. The harvested crop can be cut precisely to size according to requirements and then treated with enzymes, mould inhibitors or bacteria to aid fermentation.
Checking out a used forage harvester depends entirely on the type of unit being considered. Simple trailed mechanisms are relatively straightforward, but self-propelled harvesters would require a similar degree of inspection as a tractor or combine.
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