Bale recutters, available on round and square balers the past few years, cut the hay being baled into shorter lengths. Also called precutters, they add cost to the baler, require additional horsepower to operate and take some additional maintenance. But they can add value for the hay user and should be considered, especially since hay prices have increased.
One advantage to the haymaker is that greater bale density can be achieved so that more hay can be stored in the same space. But the primary value of reducing the length of hay in a bale is to the user. For the dairyman, bales made with a recutter attachment are easier to break up in a total mixed ration (TMR) mixer, and the shorter hay pieces mix more uniformly and are better distributed throughout the TMR.
When bales are fed alone, as to growing animals or beef cows, data has shown that cattle waste less when fed bales made with recutters. When an animal feeds from a bale made with full-length hay from a feeder, it pulls out a bunch of hay, bites off a portion and drops the rest. The dropped hay, if outside the feeder, will be trampled on and wasted.
When cattle eat bales made with a recutter, they pull out smaller portions and swallow most of the hay. We can expect a 5-10% improvement in feed-use efficiency when animals consume bales made with a recutter compared to bales of full-length hay. With hay at $250 or more per ton, this savings can add up rapidly.
Data from Pennsylvania show that growing beef cattle had slightly higher feed intakes when fed bales made with shorter hay lengths from a recutter and gained 10% more weight.
There is no advantage to a bale recutter in haymaking or silage fermentation (other than the greater density for improved storage mentioned earlier). So the value of bales with recut hay is largely for the person feeding them. I have talked with a number of growers who have fed hay from bales made with recutters and all want to continue using such hay.
A hay grower or contract baler must be able to charge slightly higher prices to recover the additional purchase and operating cost of the baler with a recutter.
These bale recutters can make hay with a final theoretical cut length as short as 1.5”. However, I recommend using fewer knives to get a final hay length of 4-6”. That length will provide most or all of the benefit in terms of ease of use in a TMR, reduced feed losses and increased forage intake. Taking out every other knife reduces maintenance and energy costs.
In summary, while balers with recutters have slightly higher purchase and operating costs, they can be economically beneficial due to better hay and haylage feeding characteristics. The benefits have become more pronounced as hay prices have increased.
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