If more Wisconsin dairy producers would chop alfalfa the same day it's mowed, they'd harvest higher-quality haylage and reduce rain-damage worries, says Bill Sowers.
One-day haylage production is possible, even in average drying weather, if the crop is laid in wide swaths and raked or merged before chopping, says Sowers, business manager for New Holland Agriculture in northern Wisconsin.
The wide-swath part just got easier for owners of his company's disc mower-conditioners. Most cutting machines can't lay forage in wide swaths — at least 70% of the cutting width — because the conditioning rolls aren't wide enough. But New Holland is introducing simple attachments to respread the crop after it leaves the rolls in alfalfa or flails in grasses.
The 11”-long tapered metal bars, tentatively called Wide-Thin Fins, are bolted onto a mower-conditioner's swath gate (the horizontal, adjustable door just behind and above the rolls). The machine's windrow-forming shields are removed. Four properly positioned fins can spread the crop to 80-100% of the cutting width, depending on machine size, crop thickness and travel speed, says Sowers.
“We have specific places where the fins need to be located, and the specific location is determined by the primary exit path of the crop from the cutting discs.”
“We think farmers might customize the placement and the angle to suit their personal preferences with different crops and different travel speeds,” he adds. “They also might add an additional couple of fins for a total of six. We haven't done it, but we can see that might be a viable option to further customize the exit path of the crop.”
The relatively inexpensive fins are intended for New Holland disc mower-conditioners with 10', 13' and 15.5' cutting widths. All three have 8.5' conditioning rolls and 8' standard swath widths. The 10' model already lays swaths that are 80% of its cutting width, and the fins offer the ability to go to 90%. With fins, the 13' machine can lay swaths 80-100% of its cutting width; the 15.5' unit, 90-100%, according to Sowers.
“The bigger the machine, the more advantage the fins have.” Faster speeds and heavier crops also favor wider swaths, he adds.
They should work satisfactorily on sickle mower-conditioners, too. But the crop exits more evenly from those machines and with less velocity. So fin placement will differ and resulting swaths may not be quite as wide as on disc units.
At this point, the fins are not adaptable to self-propelled windrowers.
“We're thinking about that for down the road,” says Sowers. “But it's more difficult on a self-propelled windrower because of the large tires that we have to get around. It's going to require a lot of design work.”
They may or may not work on other companies' mower-conditioners, adds Gary Wojcik, New Holland's brand marketing manager, crop preparation products. He points out that disc configuration and rotation direction, swath-gate location and dimensions and other parameters all vary among brands.
“Right now we know it works really well on New Holland disc machines,” says Wojcik.
The fins, along with installation instructions and the needed nuts, bolts and washers, were expected to be available in kits from New Holland dealers by mid-July. The same fins previously were used to make windrows narrower on disc mower-conditioners mounted on the front of bidirectional tractors, so the company has had a few in its parts inventory for several years.
Curtis Hoffman, Sowers' counterpart in New Jersey, was the first to mount them on New Holland's newest machines. He mowed mostly grasses using disc mowers with flail conditioners and sent his results to Sowers, who tested the fins on roll-conditioner units for alfalfa.
The two men found that forage mowed and laid in wide swaths in the morning could be chopped at 55-65% moisture by late afternoon. Chopping that soon after cutting maximizes quality by reducing respiration loss, according to Sowers.
“I know that crop quality declines by the hour the longer it lays there,” he says.
Wide, thin swaths also dry more evenly than thick ones, and one-day harvesting reduces stubble damage from wheel traffic, he adds.
Presently, most Wisconsin dairy producers chop 24-36 hours after cutting. They mow at the width of their harvesting equipment because they don't want to bring the swaths together with a rake or merger.
They're saving money by avoiding that field pass, “but they're paying a big price in crop quality, and they're paying a big price on rain risk,” says Sowers.