Jud Harward says macerated hay dries so fast it doesn't get sun-bleached. Color is important, because he caters to the horse market.

“The green sells the hay,” says Harward, of Springville, UT.

Leo Pedersen, Scotland, SD, has noticed better color, too, and also claims maceration makes his alfalfa softer and more palatable.

“My dairy customer likes the way it feeds,” he reports.

These growers both are in their second seasons with Model 6600 macerators made by Agland Co., Arborg, Manitoba. North America's first macerator, the Model 6600 is said to speed drying by crimping hay more severely than conventional conditioners. It has two sets of rollers, one rubber and one steel, and roll clearance is controlled by air bags.

Agland bought the manufacturing rights to a macerator built at the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) in Canada and put its version on the market in 2001. It's available throughout the U.S.

Demand has been “very good,” reports Irwin Kornelsen, Agland's owner. “We're basically sold out on new units.”

He says the company is still developing a model with a wider pickup (the 6600 is 66” wide). Meanwhile, several improvements have been made to the current model since it was introduced. They include bigger tires, a beefed-up to drive and belts instead of chains for driving the rollers.

Pedersen says the intensive conditioning speeds drydown by a day or two in his South Dakota fields. He and Harward both see the extra trip through the field as the biggest downside.

“It's kind of the pits when a guy doesn't have a lot of time,” says Pedersen. “But if you can save the greenness and get the hay baled a couple of days sooner, it's worth it.”

He grows nearly 500 acres of alfalfa with his son Leroy, plus he does custom baling and has a full-time job. He usually macerates about four hours after cutting, but sometimes does it sooner.

He adjusts his macerator roller tension according to the amount of wilt in the crop. If properly adjusted, it doesn't cause much leaf loss, he says.

“What I lose I gain back on the other end — in better color and quality,” he says.

“If it's set too tight, it'll grind up the hay a little bit,” he adds.

Agland representatives have been good to work with, he says. Early on, when he had a few problems, they sent someone to help. And they've installed each upgrade on his machine.

When Harward needed a sprocket to speed up the pickup head, they sent it the next day. But he was less impressed initially.

“There wasn't any service with the machine,” he reports. “It was, ‘Buy it, good luck, you're on your own.’”

While Pedersen uses the macerator on every cutting, Harward only macerates the first one. In Utah, later cuttings usually dry fast enough without it, he says.

“Under normal conditions, we can get first-crop hay to dry in three to four days in 80° weather in May,” Harward says.

He figures his machine paid for itself the first time he used it — in last year's first cutting. In a side-by-side test, macerated alfalfa dried two days faster then unmacerated hay.

“We like the machine because it's well-built and well-engineered,” says Harward. “But it's just one tool to have in your machinery line, and there's an art to running it. There was a learning curve for us.

“The hay dries so fast that you have to rethink the whole process,” he adds. “If you let it dry too much, you've just got dry sticks.”

Some university agronomists are skeptical that the machine can improve hay quality enough to justify the $19,000 price tag and an extra trip through the hayfield. But so far very little research data is available to verify or ease their concerns.

Agland's Kornelsen says macerators will be tested at a few universities yet this year. These include the University of Wisconsin and University of California.

In California, maceration will be evaluated in rice straw, which presently has little feed value. The hope is that faster drying will salvage some of the straw's nutrients, so it can be fed to cattle.

“If it works, rice growers will be huge market for us,” he says.