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0408 FG: Rules of raking: Getting enough bang for your bale

Dennis Skibo Published on 15 August 2008

Why rake? Before baling hay, raking is necessary for two reasons:

1. to narrow the swath for the baler, and
2. to move wetter hay at the bottom of the windrow to the outside and top for even drying.

Through the years, manufacturers have improved raking technology to make the task faster and easier. The newest rotary rakes and wheel rakes move hay more gently to reduce leaf loss. In fact, a study from the University of Ohio showed that the type of rake that farmers use does not have a large impact on hay’s drying rate or quality. So, which is the best investment?

The match-up: rotary versus wheel
Rotary rakes are premium hay tools that are better for harvesting alfalfa than grass hay. These machines create fluffy, layered windrows.

Single rotary rakes work well for many farmers, and they are preferred by some farmers who put up smaller, square bales. Rotary rakes will also pick up the finer hay that old-style rakes may miss.

With rotary rakes more than 10 feet wide, farmers may experience transport problems and need to disassemble some of the rake’s arms to move it in and out of the field.

To circumvent this issue, look for newer rotary rakes that come equipped with hydraulics. These lift systems allow users to raise and lower the rake into different positions for easier transportation.

Other new features also help raking run smoothly. For example, some rakes feature large flotation tires to handle rough terrain better without sacrificing performance at higher ground speeds. Heavy-duty, four-bolt wheels on these rakes are mounted to the wheel hubs with a tapered bearing at the spindle.

Although wheel rakes may cost more than their rotary counterparts, they may be worth the investment. Typically, these machines offer more value for large hay producers working with more acreage; producers doing many cuttings per year; hay producers with manpower availability issues; and smaller farmers looking for higher capacity to address time constraints.

Wheel rakes are capable of raking large quantities of hay in a short period of time — 10 to 20 acres per hour, depending on rake size and speed.

Advanced wheel rakes can be adjusted hydraulically to make the windrow size just right. Models with rubber mount tines move hay easily, while picking up minimal stones or other ground debris.

To operate at higher speeds, farmers should look for wheel rakes with tandem walking beam axles. Walking beam axles allow the rake to closely follow the contour of the land for improved ground speed and rake performance.

When selecting the right type of rake, it comes down to hay acreage, type of hay and the amount of money a farmer is looking to spend.

When looking at different brands, potential buyers should judge the value by comparing things like the quality of the welds, design and heaviness of the walking beam axles, size of the bearings and the reputation of the manufacturer.  FG

Dennis Skibo