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Main site home page.

Intro to Country Living
Some of my experiences living in the country.

Fix And Repair More

Hay Farming
Hay farming process.

Step 1- Tilling
Working the soil.

Step 2 - Planting
Planting the seed.

Step 3 - Irrigation
Watering the crop.

Step 4 - Weed Control
Dealing with weeds.

Step 5 - Fertilizing
Fertilizing the soil.

Step 6 - Cutting
Cutting the hay.

Step 7 - Baling
Baling up the hay.

Step 8 - Stacking
Stacking the hay bales.

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Starting to Harvest - Cutting the Hay

The first step in harvesting hay is to cut it.  Hay is not like some crops that have only one harvest per year.  Depending on the weather and growing conditions in the area, you can take multiple cuttings during the season.  In my case, I usually cut and harvest hay 4 times per year for alfalfa.  For orchard grass hay, it would be 3 cuttings per year.  The piece of farm equipment that is used for cutting hay is known as a swather.  Essentially, a swather is like a big mower that cuts through the hay and piles it up in long rows known as windrows.  The swather not only cuts the hay, but it also conditions the hay.  There are a set of long rollers behind the cutting head that is designed to carefully crush the stems of the hay as it passes between the conditioning rolls.  This conditioning is intended to speed drying time, because the cracked stems are supposed to evaporate off the moisture more quickly.  The conditioning effect can be fine tuned by adjusting the pressure with which the 2 conditioner rolls squeeze the hay passing through them.  You want to crack the stems, but you do not want to smash the hay too much or else you can damage the leaves on crops like alfalfa.

  Hesston 6610 Hay Cutting Swather

Hesston 6610 Swather for Cutting Hay

There are 2 main types of swathers.  There are swathers that cut hay with a sickle bar, and there are swathers that use rotary cutters.  The sickle bar is a long set of blades that run the full width of the header.  The sickle bar moves side to side quickly while there are stationary guides that restrain the stems and allow the sickle blades to cut the hay.  If you've ever seen an electric hair clipper, then the way it works is very similar.  Another way of looking at it is that a sickle bar cutter works similar to scissors.  On a swather that utilizes rotary cutters, they are basically like big mower blades that spin around and cut the hay.  Generally speaking, the rotary type cutters can cut the hay faster, while ground speed has to be kept lower on sickle bar type swathers.  While they are faster, rotary cutters handle the hay more roughly, while a slower sickle bar swather will usually handle the hay more gently.  This can be important for hay crops like alfalfa where most of the nutrient value is in the leaves.  You don't want to handle it roughly and have the leaves shredded or ripped off. 

  Cutting Orchard Grass Hay

Almost Done Cutting My 33 Acre Orchard Grass Field

Very similar to an ordinary mower that you use on your lawn, a swather can only cut so much hay before it gets overloaded.  In other words, if you are cutting a hay field that has a lot of growth, then you have to proceed through the field at a slow enough pace so that you don't plug up the cutting header.  With my 30 year old Hesston swather, I have a maximum cutting speed of around 3mph.  More recently, I have been trying to go slower and keep it below 2.5mph.  I use a GPS to keep track of my ground speed while I am cutting.  There have been times when I was cutting hay and even 1mph was too fast!  The hay was so thick and the growth was so dense, that I could barely move forward before the header was getting clogged up with hay.  Another factor in the maximum speed is whether or not you are getting a clean cut.  You might be able to go faster without plugging up the header, but you might still be leaving uncut stem behind as there is not enough time for the hay stem to be cut off cleanly.  In my experience, assuming no mechanical problems or problems in the field, cutting hay with a swather is one of the easier parts of the hay farming process.