Tedding, raking, merging and other mechanical haying methods were examined for their usefulness by Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin extension forage specialist.

Tedders do their job well when used on grasses in very humid regions of the U.S. where windrows need to be turned frequently for faster drying. “But tedding is probably not a good idea for alfalfa because the dry matter losses outweigh the drying rate increases that you see,” he said.

Fluffers can speed drying time – one grower converted an old parallel rake to lift and set down windrows, Undersander said. “But you have to decide how much of an increase in drying time you need” to make it worthwhile.

Windrow inverters, which simply turn windrows over, probably aren’t worthwhile, he added.

The most common rake is the wheel rake. “We’re seeing a lot more wheel rakes becausethey’re the cheapest rakes. But the wheels are ground-driven and can add ash to the hay, he warned. “It’s important that you adjust these wheels so that they will float as much as possible and still pick up your hay.”

Parallel rakes are powered, high-maintenance and, unfortunately, rigid across rough ground, he said.

“I’m seeing a lot more rotary rakes. Since they are power-driven, you can keep the teeth off the ground so you’re not putting as much dirt in the windrow.”

Mergers are good investments if large acreages are harvested and there are a number of different types available. All merge swaths and windrows with less leaf loss and less added ash than rakes.

“Whether raking or merging, the more you merge to get to harvest machine capacity (either baler or chopper), the lower the harvesting cost per ton because a rake or merger costs less to drive than a chopper or a baler and wagon.”

He doesn’t see much use for reconditioners in the U.S. except on timothy grass in the Northwest. “Basically, they’re used on the day of baling as soon as the dew is off to help remove the last 5% of moisture. That’s okay for grass, and because the leaves hang on, it works for timothy. But it’s probably not a good idea for alfalfa because you’re going to have tremendous leaf loss.”

“There are interesting, new things coming on the market, both in terms of design and automation for baling.” But the advantages of balers with choppers that allow bales to easily break apart at feeding go primarily to the person feeding the bales. Commercial hay makers considering balers of this sort need to know there’s a higher energy requirement to run them and that stones in the hay could be an issue. “You will need that premium in the market in order to justify this.”

Another baler automatically maintains a certain bale density, adjusts pressure, measures the moisture content and registers the amount of twine on each bale to tell growers of any miss-ties. Baler monitoring units can set the bale size, twine spacings and number of wraps from the tractor. “In some cases I can see where that will be worthwhile, that you might want to make some changes while you’re baling a field under certain conditions. But more than that it will tell you what’s going on back on the baler.

“Clearly, the one thing we’re seeing with all machinery is that it’s getting bigger. The biggest mower that I found was more than 31’9” per pass. The rakes are out to 30’. There’s a merger out that has two 15’ heads that will cover a 30’ merging pass. The biggest chopper I found was 1,020 hp.”

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