Which rake takes the cake?

By Mike Rankin

The rake, generally speaking, is the piece of forage-making equipment that probably suffers from the biggest inferiority complex. Stuck between the more noteworthy mower-conditioner and baler or chopper in order of use, the rake is still an integral component of the haymaking process.

Rakes come in a variety of types and sizes: parallel bar, rotary, and wheel. There are also mergers, tedders, and windrow inverters that perform very specific functions to accelerate drying time or the haymaking process.

But which rake is best?

Let’s check a few user comments from the internet machinery forums . . .

“Our double rotary rake does a great job.”

“I prefer wheel rakes for their simplicity and speed.”

“You can’t go wrong with the basket (parallel-bar) rakes.”

“Almost everyone chopping around here runs a merger.”

“I run multiple hay rake types depending on the situation.”

It seems clear that preference and opinion are in the hands and hayfields of the user, which is not surprising.

The rake that works best will vary with the farm, topography, type of forage being harvested, windrow or swath orientation, and the moisture of the forage being raked. As always, purchase price also comes into play.

Research studies that have compared rake types and user comments help to generate a list of the advantages and disadvantages for the various types. A rake, like any other piece of equipment, must be adjusted properly regardless of type.

Wheel rakes:

• Generally, the lowest cost rake type because there is no power take-off (PTO) or hydraulics needed to
drive it.

• Operate best in dry hay.

• Come in a variety of configurations and sizes: mounted, single frame, twin frame, hydraulic folding option, wheels in front of the frame, wheels behind the frame, and large diameter wheels.

• Windrow “roping,” which can slow drying rate, is a common complaint.

• Proper tension on the individual rake wheels is critical. The crop must be picked up, but at the same time tines need to be set so as not to cause excessive wear and incorporate soil into the windrow.

• In a recent three-state study comparing rake types, the wheel rake resulted in the greatest ash content postraking compared to other rake types.

• Improvements in tine configurations with improved lifting capabilities have recently come onto the market.

• The wheel rake remains a very popular choice for many haymakers.

Parallel bar rakes:

• Have been on the market for many years, but newer rake types have taken some of their market share in some regions.

• Offered in single and twin configurations.

• Newer designs have larger baskets and more bars (seven versus five) than some of the original models. This allows for more flexibility in making a windrow.

• Gentle raking action with less chance of soil contamination than the wheel rake.

Rotary rakes:

• Originating in Europe to handle wetter grass forage, the rotary rake is now also a popular choice in the United States for moving higher moisture forage.

• A configuration range from one to six rotors.

• Comparatively, the most expensive rake type.

• Rotary rakes often are touted for leaving a fluffy windrow, allowing for good air movement and drying.

• Rotor settings and ground speed need proper synchronization. When set properly, little soil contamination should occur.

• Depending on configuration, possible to make a single or double windrow.

New technologies for all types of rakes have evolved and improved significantly in the past 10 to 15 years. The capacities of rakes in terms of working width have also grown. Today’s modern rakes are not the same as what your grandpa used to operate.

Although new model rakes are easier than ever to adjust for optimum performance, taking the time and effort to ensure those adjustments are made still stands paramount to achieving a quality forage product. An improperly adjusted rake can turn a potentially high-quality crop into a product with too few leaves and too much soil.

As for rake type, differing opinions will always exist as to which is the best, and it may ultimately come down to the specific situation to answer that question. Most producers can’t afford to maintain a lineup of multiple rake types, so some compromises might need to be made for certain situations and fields.

When considering the purchase of a new rake, talk to other producers who are making hay or haylage under similar conditions as you. Also consider dealer support and knowledge of their products.

Aside from rakes, windrow mergers, inverters, and tedders are also widely used in haymaking, but each has a very specific function. We’ll leave the discussion on these hay tools for another day.