Submitted to: Extension Publications
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/15/2003
Publication Date: 11/20/2003
Citation: Rotz, C.A. 2003. Equipment and processes to speed hay drying. Extension Publications. 9:1.
Technical Abstract: Making high quality hay in our climate is a challenge. Unfortunately, there are no magic solutions to the problem of working around the weather. Steps can be taken though to speed drying and thus reduce the risk of weather damage. The greatest obstacle to producing high quality forage is the losses that occur during field curing. Plant respiration, rain damage, and machine treatments all remove nutrients from the forage crop, reducing the quality in the remaining forage. A number of available processes affect hay drying and quality. When evaluating these techniques, one must consider their effect on drying, but also the losses that they may produce and the economics of using them in hay production. In order for any hay making practice to be practical, the benefit in hay quality must be worth more than the cost of the treatment. As hay cures in the field, three different constraints limit the rate of drying. These are the plant structure, the swath structure, and the surrounding environment. At any point in time, any one of these or a combination may be most limiting. The most limiting factor will change though during the curing process and as weather conditions vary. General recommendations for producing high quality hay are as follows. Mow your crop as much as possible at the right stage of maturity. Use a traditional cutterbar or disk mower with a conditioner (rubber rolls for alfalfa, impeller for grass). For rapid drying, lay the crop in a wide swath with a raking operation in the morning prior to baling. Avoid spreading swaths too wide though when yields are low to prevent excessive raking loss. When making silage, narrow swaths may be used to avoid raking or to reduce loss when raking is used to combine windrows. Combining swaths can greatly improve the efficiency and reduce the operating costs of today's high capacity baling and chopping equipment. Avoid routine baling of high moisture hay, but under difficult drying conditions, this can be done to avoid extended field curing and rain damage. When moist hay is baled, use a good acid treatment or a barn dryer to avoid heating and to help preserve nutrients. The net economic benefit for this practice is generally low for the dairy farmer. The commercial hay grower will benefit more by reducing field loss and marketing hay with better appearance.