Making Hay: Equipment
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There are two main types of mowers: 3-point sickle bar and disc. Sickle bar mowers are considered the more traditional of the two and have a precise, scissor-like cut. They require about 540 rpm PTO, and cutting widths are generally 7 to 9 feet. Sickle bar mowers are particularly popular in the Midwest where crops are frequently windblown. Sickle bar mowers have a tendency to plug and don't cut heavy or down hay as well as disc mowers. These machines are also slower going and will keep you in the field longer than a disc mower would. For the best cutting results, the average maximum speed of a sickle bar mower is below 6 mph. Sickle bar mowers, in general, will also need more repairs than disc mowers, although the repair costs are cheaper. The retail price for a 3-point sickle bar mower ranges from $9,000 to $11,000.
Disc mowers are speedier than their sickle bar counterparts and can cut through a tangled crop and a raspberry bush or two. These mowers have a rougher cut than sickle mowers, especially in a newly seeded crop, but this is not usually a problem if the hay is healthy. In general, disc mowers are pricier when it comes to purchasing cost, but they require fewer repairs and will most likely save you money in the long run. A minimum of 30 hp. to 45 hp. is the typical tractor requirement, and cutting width is between 51⁄2 and 7 feet, depending on the model. Cost ranges from $7,000 to $11,000.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: February 15, 2019
Both varieties of mowers are available in a mower-conditioner combination. The conditioner portion of the machine uses steel or rubber rollers to roll and crimp the hay as it is mown, breaking the waxy stem to speed up the drying process. The intensity setting of the conditioner influences the drying time of the hay. Crank it up and the moisture level will fall faster, but at the expense of more forage loss. Mower-conditioners will also place the hay into windrows, which may make a rake unnecessary but could also result in a slower drying time for the hay. Mower-conditioners have a width between 7 and 9 feet. Be aware that the machines generally require a higher level of horsepower than plain mowers, needing 30 hp. to 75 hp., depending on the manufacturer and the model. They are also pricier, starting at about $16,500 and going up from there to more than $25,000.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: February 15, 2019
Hay, if baled with over 20% moisture, has a high probability of molding and being unsuitable for animals. Wet hay can even start on fire by spontaneous combustion. Therefore, in particularly rainy or humid areas, especially in the East and South, you may want to invest in a tedder to speed up the drying process. A tedder turns and spreads the mown hay, laying it flat on the ground; after tedding, the underside is then exposed to wind and air. Tedders are a tool to help dry hay faster. Be aware that tedders can increase the loss of leaves more than rakes - especially with alfalfa. Tedder sizes range from 10 to 17 feet in working width. A four-basket tedder costs about $8,000.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: February 15, 2019
After the hay has had a couple of hours to sit after raking and you've determined the moisture level is ideal, it's time to bale. Before you buy a baler, be sure you've thought through what shape and size of bale is best for your needs. Small square bales are easily moveable by hand, stack well, are great for feeding a few animals, and have little spoilage. The average size of small squares is 14×18 inches in height and width and up to 52 inches in length. However, make sure you have plenty of indoor storage space before you settle on square bales; in order to prevent dry matter losses and moisture absorption, square bales should not be kept outside. Small square balers require around 35 hp. and cost up to $21,000.
Outdoor storage is an option for round bales because their shape allows rain to run off. Round bales are not completely resistant to the elements, however; covering the bales with a tarp or baling them in net wrap will reduce quality loss if they are stored outdoors. While there are a larger number of storage options for round bales vs. small square bales, round bales are larger and heavier. You will need a tractor to transport them when feeding your livestock. Small round balers, which produce bales that are a little over 3 to 5 feet wide and 3 to 5 feet tall, cost $15,000 to $26,000 depending on whether or not you opt for twine binding or net wrap, which is more expensive. A net kit can be added to your baler at a later time for several thousand dollars. The tractor requirements are 35 hp. to 40 hp. for small round balers.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: February 15, 2019
The typical setup for small square balers is to have a flatbed wagon or hayrack hooked up to the baler. As the bales come out of the chute, a person grabs them and manually stacks them on the rack. Keep in mind that the terrain and size of your hayrack will determine the amount of bales you can transport at one time. If you are going uphill or making sharp turns, stack accordingly. Many hayracks are built by the owner or are purchased used. New wagon gear (above) is about $1,900. Used hayracks generally sell for $1,000 and up.
Some balers have a bale thrower option that tosses the bales directly into the wagon. A bale thrower costs ap-proximately $6,500. Note: If you’re using a bale thrower, you will need to have a wagon with sides to contain the haphazardly thrown bales.
If you don't own a rack or a wagon, you can let the baler drop the small square bales on the ground and you can pick them up later. This is the most physically demanding option.
Round balers place the bales on the ground as you bale your crop. You will then need to return to the field and transport the bales one by one using a bale spear or other attachment on your tractor.
Haying can be an enjoyable and economic option for feeding your animals. Keep in mind, though, that your hay crop will not work around your schedule. There is a short window from when the hay is ready to be cut until haying time. It won't wait for you to get home from work. Be sure your schedule can accommodate.
Put simply, you'll probably be more satisfied with the haying results when you get in the field and do it yourself.Date Published: April 13, 2012Date Updated: February 15, 2019
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