With the ever-changing weather of central Kentucky – especially cool, wet years like this – Clayton Geralds has no time to spare when it comes to putting up hay.

So the Munfordville commercial hay grower hasn’t a qualm in adding a field operation that other growers may hesitate over: He teds his alfalfa hay.

“This year we’ve had to ted almost every bale we have made,” says Geralds, who has 500 acres of alfalfa and alfalfa-orchardgrass and 180 acres of timothy. “In a normal situation, tedding will gain you about one day drying time.” As often as it rained this year, Geralds used every extra day he could get; some thick first cuttings were tedded twice.

Tedders are commonly used to spread out grasses and speed drying. But many growers won’t use them on alfalfa. If the hay is too dry, tedding can knock off leaves, which robs the crop of much of its protein.

However, a chorus of growers, equipment sales representatives and university specialists advocate tedding alfalfa as long as it is done correctly.

“Tedding by itself isn’t good or bad,” says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist. “It’s a question of when and how you use it.”

To dry quickly, alfalfa should be laid in as wide a swath as possible, Undersander says, and tedders will do that. Tedding alfalfa shortly after cutting, when the crop is typically about 75% water, helps minimize leaf loss. Once that level drops below 65%, leaves are too likely to shatter if tedded. “If you ted 24 hours or so later, your leaf loss is pretty high with alfalfa.”

The forage specialist recommends hooking tedders directly behind mowers to save leaves and avoid extra field passes, labor and machinery wear.

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“If using a pull-type mower-conditioner, why not put fins on its back baffle to spread out the hay?” Undersander suggests as an alternative to buying a tedder.

However, tedders make particular sense with self-propelled mowers, where cut hay fits between wheels so it isn’t driven on, he adds.

Geralds cuts about 80 acres of alfalfa a day, which is about what his two 26’ tedders can spread out in two hours. If it takes more time than that to ted, the hay won’t dry evenly, he says.

“Baling small squares of top-quality hay, it’s important to have it dry even,” he adds. “It doesn’t do us any good if part of the hay is 15% moisture and part is 25%.”

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Will tedding alfalfa two hours after it’s cut knock off leaves? That’s a question that Frank Martin, a Tulare, CA, Krone-North America salesperson, would like answered.

The former farmer has been looking for different ways to efficiently use tedders since he joined the dealership a year and a half ago. He hopes to set up tedding trials in the next year with University of California Davis Extension.

Martin wants to have the science to back up his theory that tedding two hours after swathing is safe, he says.

Geralds, the Kentucky grower, may not have the science, but he does have a time-tested system he has developed to tell when to safely ted alfalfa. He checks his fields around 5 p.m. the day before he wants to bale. If it’s not dry enough to be ready by the time dew is off in the morning, he knows he needs to ted it.

In wet years like this, tedding also gets the alfalfa off the wet ground. His 16.5’ New Holland windrower makes about 8’ swaths with 8’ of exposed ground in between.

“When we ted, we’re taking that hay that’s wet and putting it on the ground that is already dried out.” Hay that isn’t tedded can sit for five days without drying. Even thin swaths may have to be moved to dry evenly, Geralds says.

Read more from Hay & Forage Grower:

Does Hydroponic Forage Production Make Sense?

November Spraying May Limit Spring Alfalfa Weevil Damage

Speed Forage Drydown With Glyphosate