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Author Q & A to Dan Undersander about drying hay and haylage

Dan Undersander Published on 21 May 2013

The following came in response to the article 'Drying forage for hay and haylage' which appeared in the May 2011 edition. Click here to read the original article.

Ask the Author

Q. Dear Dr. Undersander,

I am a forage grower and cattle rancher in western South Dakota who enjoys reading your articles in Progressive Forage Grower magazine.

I hope you don’t mind me writing you a note to ask you for some advice. I don’t always get my magazines read in a timely manner, but recently I was reading through my stack as I was sitting in the pickup watching cows calve.

Your article in Issue 5 – June 1, 2011 really hit the nail on the head for me.

I am really frustrated with my ability to harvest good-quality hay in terms of getting it dry enough for baling before it gets rained on, except of course during the drought this last year.

I didn’t realize hay was so slow to dry in a windrow even if it was conditioned. I’ve been cutting with a New Holland hydro swing swather, raking two windrows together with a H&S high-capacity V rake, then baling with a New Holland BR 780 twine-tie baler.

My hay is dry land but creek bottom, grass, grass-alfalfa and some mainly alfalfa that I recently replanted. When this system does work it is wonderful, but when it doesn’t, I get rained-on, bleached-out, moldy hay.

My problem is that the windrows that I lay down take forever to dry if the hay is heavy, sometimes four days or more, no matter how I have the conditioner set.

Then if it rains, it takes another several days to re-dry. And if it rains on a windrow I have already raked together, well forget it – it takes days and several times turning to get this dry and usually all I want to do is get it off the field.

Now I realized I need to lay down wider swaths (windrows), but that will mean I am driving on the previous swath with my fairly big tractor, and my rake won’t go wide enough to rake two swaths together. So my present equipment system will not work.

So my question is: I don’t know whether I am better off buying a bigger rake so I can rake two of the wider swaths together, or scrapping the swather altogether and going back to cutting hay with a sickle-bar mower and smaller tractor (like we used to do many years ago when I was a kid), or even a double-nine mower and a bigger tractor.

I know this is a lengthy explanation, but any help or suggestions you could offer would be greatly appreciated. I need to make a change, but I can’t decide which direction to go.

I really want and need to be able to harvest better-quality hay. I watch some of my neighbors mow, rake and stack hay in the time I’m still waiting for my hay to dry, and I couldn’t figure out what my problem was or what to do until I read your article.

Thank you,

—John Allan, DVM

A.  John,

I would not go back to the mowing with sickle bar but no conditioner. Conditioning is needed to dry stems in the haymaking process. Remember that, for haymaking, we want both the leaves and the stems to dry.

The wide swath is for the leaves and the conditioner is for the stems.

I would strongly recommend that you keep the current mowing system and move toward a rake that can merge (rake) the two swaths together.

A wide swath should save an average of one day on drying time in haymaking. The larger rake will also reduce the labor of raking.


Dr. Dan Undersander
Extension and Forage Agronomist
University of Wisconsin