Back in the early '90s, Dave Fick, Hills, MN, hosted a Missouri farmer who scoffed at the way Fick and his fellow Minnesotans harvested alfalfa hay.
“He laughed and said it was ridiculous,” Fick recalls. “He said, ‘First, you windrow hay after cutting it and leave it in the windrow on top of wet ground. Ten days later, you wonder why the hay is still wet. Why don't you use a tedder and spread the hay out of the windrow so it will dry?’”
For the next few years, the Missouri farmer's critique stuck like a barb in Fick's brain as he struggled with wet windrowed hay. Six years ago, Fick bought a tedder to solve his wet hay woes.
Tedding speeds the curing process by fluffing hay and spreading it over the original swath width.
“The ground is drier where there isn't a windrow,” says Fick. “”Tedding spreads the hay out over that dry area for faster dry-down.”
Estimates vary, but tedding can shave one-half to one day off a three- to five-day normal curing period.
“It's not a panacea by any means,” says Mike Collins, University of Kentucky agronomist. “But there are cases when even a small reduction in curing time is enough to allow a producer to put up a field of hay that otherwise would be subjected to rain.”
Tedding is best-suited for the first alfalfa cutting, since it's often the thickest and wettest cutting of the year.
“The need for tedding may be less for the second and third cuttings,” says Collins. “Since those crops tend to be lighter, the thickness of the swath will be less.”
Leaf loss is the biggest drawback of tedding alfalfa. If too much time passes between cutting and tedding, leaves dry and break off. Fick teds within two hours after cutting.
Leaf loss is minimal if tedding is done shortly after cutting, adds Alan Rotz, a USDA-ARS ag engineer in University Park, PA. In his studies, just 1% of the leaves were lost when alfalfa was tedded at 70-80% moisture. At 50% moisture, leaf loss was 2-3%. Below 30% moisture, leaf loss climbed to 10%.
“Fifty percent is as low as you want,” Rotz says. “Below 50%, the leaves on top of the swath get brittle and will shatter when hit with the tedder.”
Collins recommends against tedding during the afternoon, regardless of moisture content.
“Even if the crop has quite a bit of moisture, the top leaves in the swath may be dry and the leaves may be brittle,” says Collins. “If you ted in the morning, the leaves are not as brittle.”
Tedding does require that Fick make an extra trip across the field with a 40-hp tractor at 5-6 mph.
“But the quality increase you get by avoiding rainfall is worth it,” he says. “Rain will humble you at times.”