They’re expensive and require an extra trip through the field. But pull-type machines that condition hay intensively can speed drying, potentially increasing the amount of high-quality hay harvested, Cornell University research has shown.
The study was done last summer by James Kingston, Extension field crop specialist for nine western New York counties.
In western New York, three to four days of dry weather are needed to bale, depending on the stage of the crop and time of year. In 2009, the area had three consecutive days without rain only 11 times from June 1 through the end of August.
“Our weather conditions for making dry hay the last few years have been ridiculous, great for corn but not for dry hay,” says Kingston. “We’ve had a lot of rainy days. Some guys were pulling their hair out.”
Growers are looking for ways to hasten hay drying, so Kingston tested two conditioning machines: Agland Industries’ Macerator and Agway’s Accelerator. The Macerator has two sets of rollers, one rubber and one steel, and the less-expensive Accelerator has one set of interlocking steel rollers. Both machines crush and crimp crop stems and can be adjusted for different crop conditions.
They were evaluated in two hay cuttings on several dairy and commercial hay farms. Hay that included pure grass (usually timothy), alfalfa-grass mixes and pure alfalfa was cut with 9’- or 12’-wide mower-conditioners equipped with roll or flail conditioners. Then it was conditioned a few hours later, or in some cases the following morning.
The hay was tedded once after the Macerator or Accelerator was used, and the drydown rates from the two conditioning machines plus tedding were compared with tedding only.
“It was pretty much consistent that the Macerator was drying the hay quicker than the Accelerator, and the Accelerator was notably better than hay that was just tedded,” Kingston reports.
Hay cut at the end of the day, even if it’s raining or going to rain during the night, can be macerated in the morning, and can be baled the following afternoon, he says.
“In one trial, timothy hay was cut, macerated and baled at 10-12% moisture 28 hours after it was cut,” he says.
With the other machine, hay usually could be baled within 48 hours after cutting.
“The Accelerator will help hay drop below 15% moisture where tedded hay often will stay in that 18-22% moisture range.”
Conditioned hay was consistently softer and appeared less stemmy than tedded-only hay, and it was greener because of less exposure to sunlight and dew, he adds.
Potential quality losses in alfalfa were one of Kingston’s concerns going into the study. But it wasn’t a problem when the machines were properly adjusted and used when the crop was moist.
“The Accelerator didn’t seem to lose many leaves. With the Macerator, it looked like a lot of leaves had been pulled off. But when we sampled the bales and tested them for quality, there was no difference between the three scenarios.”
The Macerator’s recommended operating speed is 5-6 mph, but it should be pulled slower than that when used on big windrows made by wide cutting machines.
“It’s not going to do as good of a job of conditioning if it’s really being pushed,” says Kingston. “That’s one of the things that I think is a downfall with the Macerator. But when it comes to drydown, the Macerator is definitely very impressive.”
In smooth fields, the Accelerator can be pulled at speeds up to 10 mph, and 7’- and 9’-wide models are available to match the cutting-machine width.
The initial investment and extra trip across the field are definite downsides to these machines. But Kingston points out that, in western New York, the odds of getting two consecutive dry days are much greater than getting three or four. If a grower can prevent one field of hay per year from getting rained on, an intensive conditioner might pay for itself over the course of a few years, he says.
“The decision to purchase one of these machines is dependent upon the farm’s size, current equipment, long-term goals and weather conditions in the farm’s region,” Kingston adds.
The Macerator, now distributed by PhiBer Manufacturing, is priced at $32,000 for the base unit, says Kingston. The Accelerator, sold by Tubeline Manufacturing, costs about $18,000 for the 7’-wide model; $20,000 for the 9’ unit.