By Jordan J. Milewski, Progressive Forage Grower
Losses begin at cutting: That’s the most basic hay and forage fact in relation to quality. Once the blade slices a hay stem, the quality race is on!
The fundamental problem with haymaking is that it’s impossible to preserve all the quality found in a standing crop. Once mown, the metabolic and weathering losses can significantly impact crop quality. The faster hay can be cured and put up, the higher the quality that is preserved.
One of the most recent quality haymaking developments has been the study of swath widths and crop drying rates. For many years prior to the mechanization of haymaking, producers laid hay in wide, unconditioned swaths and made additional passes with conditioners and rakes to gather the hay into harvestable windrows.
In the mid-1960s, with the advent of mower-conditioners, haymakers began to fully mechanize their harvest and utilize new technology to harvest, store and utilize hay crops faster and with greater efficiency. Industry then focused on the influence of conditioning first when discussing drying, and the influence of swath width was overlooked.
The mid-2000s brought the advent of speculative “hay-in-a-day,” much conjecture and a resurgence of wide swathing practices. Recent university research and industry collaborations have contributed to a renaissance in haymaking machines. New hay machinery models can provide more uniform conditioning as well as the formation of fast-drying, wide swaths.
To understand the resurgence of the wide swath and these new machinery advances, it’s important to review how a hay crop dries. Most often, the drying process is reflected as having three phases: leaves, surface moisture and stems. The following descriptions of these three drying stages were adapted from aFocus on Forage paper by Dan Undersander and Craig Saxe, University of Wisconsin Extension…