The Kuhn Haying System

Higher quality hay in half the time
ost of us are still occupied with winter chores and other winter activities. Although, time passes quickly and those of us involved in haying will soon start thinking about the coming haying season. It might be useful to take a look at what we have done in the past to see if we might be able to improve ‘’the way we‘ve always done it. ‘’ Whether you’re doing 20 acres or 2,000 acres, there are ways to improve the process, and we need to think beyond how fast we can cut. We need to look at the whole process. Our goal is to bale the best crop we can. What changes can we make to improve the quality of hay we harvest? Do we have the right equipment? Is it set for optimum performance? Is our equipment in the best condition? Are we using it in the most efficient manner possible? There is quite a bit to choose from when choosing hay tools and we need to choose the right machine for the crop conditions. Let’s look at the process and what is involved. Getting the crop cut is the first step and will chart the course for everything else. If we get that right, the chances are much better for By Pat Konechne, Kuhn North America, Inc. & Rick Walters, Southwest Ag, Inc.


harvesting quality bales. As soon as the hay is cut, it becomes a perishable product and has to be cared for on a timely basis. When the crop is cut, respiration and photosynthesis continue until plant moisture is reduced to 60% - 65%. During this time, valuable plant nutrients are being used to support this growth, which reduces the relative feed value of the crop. We want to get the crop dried to 60% relative moisture as quickly as possible to preserve the feed nutrients. What can we do to promote these good drying conditions? The hay needs to be exposed to air and sunlight. This is a key point to remember throughout the process. There are several opportunities to promote drying beginning with mower conditioners that today are adaptable to various crops. Adjustments can be made to the width of the windrow, the intensity of the conditioning, the floatation and the cutting height. These adjustments greatly affect how well the crop is cut and placed into a windrow. Let’s start with cutting the hay by considering the cutting width. Using a 14’ to 18’ mower conditioner in a high-producing crop produces a single dense windrow compromising drying

time. A narrower cutting width produces a smaller volume windrow that dries faster. There have been many debates on the value of conditioning, but most hay producers agree that harvesting the best possible hay would be difficult without the use of a conditioner. Two general types of conditioners are roller and non-roller. The roller conditioner is probably the most familiar and best understood, but to be effective it must be correctly adjusted for the crop. The best roller conditioner design is when the roller and the cutter bar width are the same, allowing for even crop flow through the conditioner. A 16’ cutter bar with a 9 ½’ conditioning roll will cut hay fast but it dries slowly because of uneven conditioning. The hay mat going through the rollers will be thicker on the ends and thinner in the middle. To be effective, the gap between the rolls needs to be uniform and close enough to crimp all the hay passing between the rollers, and the roller pressure needs to be sufficient to hold the rollers together. Both the roller gap and pressure are adjustable and should be checked as crop conditions change. To check your conditioner, start the machine and cut 50 yards or so into the field and stop, turn the machine off and go back to look at the hay in the windrow. Pick up several stems throughout the windrow to see that it is only cracked. This is sufficient to allow the moisture to dissipate. On alfalfa, if the head of the plant is a dark color, this indicates over-conditioning. You will see broken stems as well, which means the gap needs to be increased at least a stem thickness. If you over-condition to the point of breaking the stem, it takes the rigidity out of the stem making a tighter windrow restricting air movement and

slowing the drying process. If there is bunching in the windrow, take a look at the windrow forming shields to make sure there is nothing disrupting the flow. If the ground is dry, you can widen out the windrow to reduce the bulk of the windrow, speeding up the dry down. Once the rollers have been adjusted, you want to check them for cleanliness. If you’re in new seeding or have a lot of gopher mounds, dirt can build up and cause over-conditioning. When properly maintained and adjusted, roller conditioners can be very effective. Non-roller conditioners are very simple with only one rotating component. Kuhn conditioners are referred to as either poly-flail or finger comb conditioners. They are lighter and will require minimum maintenance for the life of the machine. The conditioning concept is different, rather than crimp and crack the stem, the finger or flail bruises the stem and scuffs the wax to release the stem moisture. This bruising will show up on the stem as a darkened area. Over-conditioning would be indicated by broken stems. Kuhn poly-flail and finger comb mower conditioners are full cutting width conditioners and tend to fluff the hay when discharging it into the windrow and are very easy to adjust, not requiring tools. Poly-flail and finger comb conditioners are very effective and gentle conditioners designed so that the cut end of the stem enters the conditioner first. This minimizes leaf loss and head damage maintaining feed value and appearance often superior to roller conditioners. Another thing to keep in mind on your mower conditioner is the floatation adjustment. On today’s modern disc cutting machines, you cut at a high rate of speed. If you hit an obstruction, the cutter bar floatation is going to save the cutter bar. Flotation must be properly adjusted and be responsive enough to reduce impact damage to the cutter bar. If the cutter bar is set too heavy it can plow through gopher mounds putting dirt in the windrow, degrading hay quality, leaving streaks in the field and wearing the skid shoes more quickly. Another important adjustment is cutting height. Cutting short may put a little more hay in the bale, but it will also put more dirt and trash in the bale. If you cut higher, up to 3 inches or more, you allow extra air to get

Whether you have been harvesting hay for years or just getting started, try to match the equipment to the environment.

under the windrow. Drying will be improved, but more importantly our cool season grasses (brome, orchard, fescue, etc.) that have growing tips 2 to 3 inches above ground will generate re-growth up to two weeks faster for the next cutting. The owner’s manual for your machine will explain how these adjustments are to be made. Kuhn offers several disc mower conditioners including 3-point hitch models, side-pull models, center-pivot models that enable both right and left side cutting, tractor front-mounted models and front- and rear-mounted combinations with total cutting widths up to 29 feet. All of which have full-width conditioning. A center pivot machine adds maneuverability when cutting irregular fields. A relatively new concept that is very efficient and cost-effective is a tractor with a front mounted mower conditioner and a pull type on the back. This requires a front PTO and 3 point hitch which allows you to use both ends of the tractor. Depending on the power available, you can cut from 18’ to 29’ and put the hay in 2 or 3 windrows with full width conditioning for faster drying. If you have a smaller tractor, a 9’ to 10’ front mounted mower conditioner only is an option. Kuhn’s large selection of disc mowerconditioners allows you to select the right machine sized to your needs. This provides a cost-effective alternative to owning a single purpose self-propelled swather tractor in a short season hay production area with a limited number of cuttings by replacing it with a year round use tractor with enhanced capabilities. As a perishable product, once we have the crop cut, we are at the mercy of ‘’Mother Nature.” You can wait and hope it doesn’t get rained on, or you can use additional options to stimulate drying. The hay you are cutting is approximately 85% moisture and will settle quite a bit in the next few hours. The more it settles the slower the drying process. You can wait until it is dry enough to bale, but how many days will that take? Relative feed value of the crop decreases every day the hay lays in the field. Your option is to stimulate uniform drying by fluffing and aerating the windrow. One very effective tool is a tedder. A tedder will spread the windrow evenly and allow the air to get at the crop to dissipate the stem moisture. You want to ted your hay as soon as you can. In alfalfa you can ted within 3 hours of cutting and you will have less than 1% leaf loss. So why can’t you just spread the windrow out right off the mower conditioner? If the ground that the hay is going to lay on is dry, this is an effective option. If there is surface moisture and you lay down a wide windrow, the sun will generate heat in the ground and moisture then evaporates from the ground, rises to the cool crop stems and condenses. You can actually feel the moisture on the bottom of the windrow. In this situation, you want to make the windrow out of the mower conditioner reasonably narrow. This will allow the ground to dry, and as soon as it is dry you can spread the hay onto the dry ground with a tedder. This is a very effective way to stimulate drying, especially those early cuttings in the spring and the late cuttings in the fall. Grass hay can be tedded more than once if necessary. Alfalfa is a different plant and takes a different

approach because it is more perishable, more time sensitive and a larger percentage of relative feed value is dependent on leaf retention. Now that the hay is tedded, when do you rake it? You don’t want to let it lay much past the wilt stage, or raking will cause significant leaf loss reducing relative feed value. Kuhn leaf saver rotary rakes utilize a simple sweeping action that gently creates fluffy, well aerated windrows. As soon as you can use a Kuhn leaf saver rake and create a windrow that doesn’t slump or settle it is time to rake. Conventional rakes such as rollabar rakes and wheel rakes roll the hay over the ground and rope the hay into a windrow. The heavier the hay the tighter the windrow, and this compromises the drying process. Consequently, the hay needs to be dryer before using a conventional rake. If you are going to rake with a conventional rake tomorrow, you can rake with a rotary today. Using the tedder and rotary rake together can take a day and a half off the drying time and maximize leaf retention. Since the rotary rake is PTO-driven it does not need to contact the ground to operate. The benefit is less dirt in the hay, faster drying, and when used properly, your hay will be cleaner and greener, with higher nutritional value.

What to

Keep in Mind

Conditioners don’t dry hay, they are the beginning of the process; you need sunlight and aeration. When you break that bale open and it looks nice and green and full of leaves with no dirt and your livestock eats it all, you know you are getting it right.

Have a great haying


Tedders come in various sizes from single windrow models, to models up to 56’ wide. The staff at Southwest Ag can get the right size tedder for your mower or mower conditioner. Just tell them how wide you are cutting and they can size the tedder to it. If you are not sure about a tedder and would like to try one first, Southwest Ag can rent you one to see if it works for you. If you don’t use a tedder, a rotary rake can be very effective in fluffing and aerating a windrow to promote drying. If you have hay that has been rained on, as soon as you can get on the field use a rotary rake to turn and fluff the windrow. By doing this in a timely manner you can save a hay crop. The baling process is where the drying results really count. What you have done up to this point will have a big effect on the ease of baling. Round balers and square balers perform differently in regard to moisture. You can actually put up higher moisture hay with a round baler because a round bale will cure if left a few days before stacking. Most of the round balers sold today are sold with net wrap rather than twine. The net wrapped bale stores better and sheds moisture better than a twine tied bale. If you are baling a lot of round bales, net wrap will save time because it takes as little as 1/6th the time to net wrap than twine tie; this can save hours in the field. This saves time and fuel with less leaf lose during wrapping. A 4’ wide round bale will go on a truck without over width issues. If you are in the commercial hay business, the square baler is the baler of choice. A large square baler will put up tons of hay in a short period of

time. It will stack and ship better as well. Kuhn round and large square balers can be fitted with an opticut cutting system that will cut and size the stem length as it goes into the bale chamber. There are several benefits to the opticut option. By cutting the hay as it is baled, you will have a denser bale. An opticut bale that is put in a feeder will be more efficiently utilized because livestock will be able to get hay out of the bale easier and in bite size quantities. Bales that have been processed in the baler, and fed free choice, will go 30% to 40% further because not as much is wasted. If you are using a mixer feeder, an opticut bale will mix in nearly half the time of an uncut bale. Harvesting hay has changed dramatically over the years. This change has been for the better by providing more efficient ways to put up hay. If you don’t like your results, then you need to change your system. We’ve detailed several simple things that can be done to improve harvest efficiency and hay quality. Other improvements are more major such as replacing a piece of equipment to improve productivity. Efficiency is important to all of us in time savings and operating costs. Whether you’ve been haying for years or you’re just getting started, try to match the equipment to the conditions and certainly match the companion machines that are used in the process. The size of your equipment should match the level of production you need. The staff at Southwest Ag is very knowledgeable on haying equipment because of their 30 years experience with hay equipment and can advise you on the right machine for your conditions. You also have the option to rent hay equipment if you choose not to purchase or just want to see if a piece of equipment really meets your needs. Remember in the past when you were out checking your hay and you said “it’s ready to bale, get the rake.” In the future, you will come to realize that if done properly, when it’s ready to bale, you will get the baler.

For more information you can contact: Pat Konechne, Kuhn North America, Inc., or Rick Walters, Southwest Ag, Inc.,


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