The traditional ways of getting hay to dry haven’t changed in a decade, but the weather patterns are changing more each year . . . and frankly, not for the better.

With conditions being wetter than normal after a spring of excessive rainfall, and storms continuing to raise the potential risk for flooding and saturated soil conditions, it’s time to start reevaluating the methods and practices of drying hay.

In an article in the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension News Digest, Phillip Kaatz, an extension forage management and field crops specialist with MSU, gives advice on the different ways to raise the likelihood of getting dry hay baled at the ideal moisture.

Avoid excess water

Avoid cutting hay until the morning dew has fully dried. “There is enough water that must leave the plants already without adding more from the nightly dew,” Kaatz says. “The bottom of windrows also absorb moisture from the soil, so keep drying hay off of wet soils as much as possible to avoid added moisture content.”

Strategies for faster drying

“Swath width is critical for the drying of hay,” Kaatz says. Swaths that are 80 percent of the total cut width will dry hay faster than narrower swaths. A study done by Dan Undersander, an extension forage agronomist with the University of Wisconsin, shows hay will dry twice as fast when it covers the entire cut area compared to hay covering one-fourth of that area.

Another method Kaatz suggests for making hay dry faster is to use a tedder. A tedder, which works especially well with grasses, will fluff the windrow or swath and allow air to flow through it more easily. The additional air dries the hay faster, but Kaatz advises not to use a tedder on partially dried alfalfa. This results in excessive leaf loss and will lower the overall quality of the hay.

Checking and adjusting harvest equipment for optimum conditioning can also promote faster drying. Proper alignment and adjustments ensure the forage is crushed and crimped evenly. Ideally, a crimper crushes the stem without pulverizing it.

“Conditioning allows water to exit the forage at a faster rate,” Kaatz says. “Over time, harvesting rollers and crimpers can become worn, especially at the center, which allows stems to go through the machine without the proper crimp or crush.”

Kaatz concludes with the reminder that weather always plays a part in the hay drying process. “There’s not much we can do to change what has or will happen when it comes to the weather,” he says.

What can be done is to ensure rapid drying times so that forage quality losses from rained-on hay will be minimized.

Michaela King

Michaela King is serving as the 2019 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and is majoring in professional journalism and photography. King grew up on a beef farm in Big Bend, Wis., where her 4-H experiences included showing both beef and dairy cattle.