Hay growers and custom harvesters who want to beef up their efficiency should look at windrow mergers, recommends Ron Schuler.

“A double-windrow merger can combine up to five windrows for faster harvesting,” says this University of Wisconsin-Madison ag engineer.

Even though the machines have been on the market for several years, interest is growing, he says.

“We demonstrated them last month at the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days and attracted large crowds. More companies are making them now, so growers have more to choose from.”

In addition to boosting efficiency, Schuler likes the machines for another reason.

“Many silage harvesters know how expensive and frustrating it can be to run a rock into the cutterhead of a forage harvester,” he says. “Merging multiple swaths into a single windrow with certain types of rakes can add to this risk because the crop is dragged along the ground as it's merged.”

With a windrow merger, there's less risk that rocks and soil will contaminate the forage. “Soil contamination in the windrow can lead to clostridia fermentation and high ash content in dairy rations.”

A merger lifts the crop onto a belt conveyor with a pickup mechanism that resembles the one on a baler. The conveyor then moves and deposits the forage in the desired location.

It can be used for either silage or dry hay, although its primary use is with silage crops because silage harvesters have much larger capacities, says Schuler.

“Many operators use their mergers just ahead of their forage harvesters.”

Before buying one, it's important to consider the compatibility of the merger's pickup width with that of your mower-conditioner and forage harvester or baler. “Some mergers can be configured with a belt extension to aid width compatibility,” he says.

Mergers are built with either a conventional tine-type pickup or a tine-belt pickup and can be configured as either single- or double-windrow machines. Single-windrow models can merge either two swaths into one with a single pass or three swaths into one by making a return pass on the opposite side of the newly doubled windrow.

Most double-windrow mergers can lay forage either to the left or the right, or to the left and right simultaneously.

“Depositing to the left or right exclusively provides the option of merging either three or five windrows into a single, larger windrow. Lifting two and depositing on a third merges three windrows. Lifting another two on the return pass on the other side and depositing on the newly tripled windrow merges five windrows.”

One drawback: Mergers cost more than rakes.

“Double mergers are generally twice as expensive as single mergers because they have two of the single mechanisms, plus a frame to carry them,” Schuler adds.