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Make Hay

Investing in equipment can save you time and increase your forage yields.

Mowers

Whether you're looking for a new challenge or you simply need a cost-effective method of feeding your livestock, haying is a great option for putting unused land to work. To some, creating the perfect bale of hay is a hobby and a profit-earning endeavor; to many others, it's a necessity. Buying hay retail can get pricey, and waiting for a custom operator to cut your crop can lead to missed peak cutting times.

Put simply, you'll probably be more satisfied with the haying results when you get in the field and do it yourself. Personal hay production allows you to control the type of hay, the bale size, and the tension of the bales to match up exactly with your needs.

Luckily, many manufacturers have product lines that are specifically targeted to the rural lifestyle landowner with 2 to 25 acres, including Case IH, John Deere, New Holland, Massey Ferguson, Vermeer, and more. These ma-chines are the perfect size for working smaller sections of land and require less horsepower than their larger counterparts, allowing them to be run by compact and utility tractors.

The main pieces of equipment you will need in order to get your own haying operation under way include a mower, hayrake, and baler. Location and climate may require a conditioner or tedder as well. A bale spear, hayrack or basket, and a hay elevator may also be desirable, depending on your transportation and storage needs. Although buying new equipment allows you to customize your machinery to match it up exactly with your needs, the price tags will add up quickly. Before you buy new, talk to your neighbors. Sharing equipment - and labor - may be a more cost-effective option for your operation.

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.

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