Scott Rice began saving a half to a full day of drying time per cutting on his Wilsonville, NE, hayfields after he and his brother, Steve, went to intermeshed, rubber-on-rubber hay conditioning rollers on their swather three years ago.

The advantage of the design? Standard rubber or steel rollers crimp stems only every 2-4". Intermeshed rubber rollers crush entire alfalfa stems, allowing more moisture to escape from plants for faster drydown and the potential for increased quality, says Ron Hoover, coordinator of on-farm research with Penn State University.

“We're tickled pink with them,” says Nathan Schermerhorn, of Schermerhorn Hay Farms LLC, Wawaka, IN, He and his dad, Larry, use the same rollers, called The Crusher, by B&D Rollers, a rubber roller manufacturing company from Glenwood, MN. “We're just ordering a new swather and going to put Dan's on right away,” he adds.

Dan Ostrander, who owns B&D, slowly branched into making the intermeshing hay rollers the past several years.

“I can't say that they will be a magic bullet for everybody, but I can say that they are going to get one or more benefits: quicker drydown; a lot less leaf loss; a softer, more-palatable hay; and definitely the rollers feed a lot better than anything out there. And our rollers don't plug,” he says.

B&D usually reconditions rollers from a grower's existing mower-conditioner or swather with the intermeshing rubber design.

Although much like Circle C Equipment's hay rollers, the B&D rollers are larger in diameter, with more rubber and cushion, Ostrander says. Circle C sells an entire air-pressure hay conditioning system that includes the intermeshing rollers. It also will recover growers' rollers, according to its Web site.

Hoover and Marvin Hall, Penn State forage specialist, tested B&D's rollers on one cutting of alfalfa last July with a conditioning-only unit. Penn State is located near several largely Amish areas, where many growers use horse-drawn sicklebar mowers. To condition hay, they usually make separate field passes with conditioning-only units.

Hay run through the B&D rollers minutes after being mowed at 79% moisture was at 36.3% — nine to 10 points drier than mowed-only hay — about 48 hours after mowing, Hoover says.

“Our trial was not as rigorous and detailed as it could have been; we should have sampled an additional time or two as the crop reached baling moisture,” he admits.

He's concerned about leaf loss — the Penn State study didn't measure that — from rollers that crush entire alfalfa stems pulled up from freshly mowed swaths. He throttled back while shifting up one or two gears so roll speed wasn't as great.

“In the process of pulling it through the rolls, I'm concerned about leaf stripping, especially if the tops start to dry off, that those petioles that connect leaves to stems are going to become brittle and leaflets are going to drop off.”

Mower-conditioners or swathers with this type of rollers probably don't have that problem, he says.

“You'd be feeding it in a more organized fashion, with all the forage moving together and individual stems less likely to be grabbed and quickly pulled through the rolls ‘right now’,” Hoover says.

“You can get a better job of crimping with the B&D without losing the leaves,” says Rice, whose swather runs on 800-900 acres of irrigated alfalfa using a tight roller tension. “If you take the standard ones down to maybe as tight as we can run these, you probably are going to lose more leaves.”

Schermerhorn has to rake hay a little tougher than he used to when using standard rollers. “It probably makes leaves a little more fragile so they could fall off easier if a guy wasn't smart about it. We rake our hay a little earlier in the mornings now, or later at night, and get along just fine.”

The B&D rollers do take some adjustment, he warns. “You can overcondition the hay; it basically chops it up if you have it too aggressive. But just by adjusting the tension on your springs, you can change that. We've been real happy with them.”

He grows roughly 400 acres of hay, mostly alfalfa, as well as buys three to four times that amount and sells it to local dairies. He's heard no complaints on the hay.

“The hay is actually softer, probably making it a little more palatable,” Schermerhorn says.

“Most of our customers commented that our hay was softer … and more palatable,” agrees Rice.

To check out B&D's hay conditioning rollers, visit www.bdrollers.com or call 800-832-1135. For information on Circle C's rollers, visit www.circlecequipment.com or call 800-367-1847.