Current Progressive Dairy digital edition
Advertisement

Equipment Hub: What’s driving the triple mower trend?

Jordan J. Milewski for Progressive Dairy Published on 24 February 2021

Some years back, the typical self-propelled forage harvester offered 300 to 600 horsepower. Fast-forward roughly 20 years. Forage harvester designs evolved with the times and now offer upward of 1,000 horsepower or more.

From the early years, it was clear triple mowers and large continuous mergers would parallel high-capacity harvesters. All three products progressed to manage ever-increasing capacities. Today’s triple mowers are just as hungry as the modern harvester.

advertisement

advertisement

Prior to the introduction of triple mowers in North America, the 16-foot self-propelled windrower and large pull-type mowers dominated the market. Each operator, mowing at 10 miles per hour, covered roughly 16.5 acres every hour, laying down 100 acres in a little more than six hours. To cover those acres in half the time required doubling up the mowing equipment, tractors, operators and operating costs. During these early years, the number one perceived triple mower advantage was simply efficiency – with one tractor, a triple mower set and a single operator, mowing productivity roughly doubled. Modern triple mowers operating at the same mowing speed can cover those same 100 acres in a little less than three hours’ time.

With these impressive stats, the typical farm show conversation about a triple mower rarely moves beyond productivity to a discussion on forage quality. Despite being overlooked as a benefit, the potential for improved forage quality with a triple mower exists. Hypothetically, let’s say mowing starts at 10 a.m. on 100 acres using one 16-foot mower. If all goes well, mowing should be finishing up right around 4 p.m. Now consider the time from the first pass to the last and the six-hour drying time difference and moisture variation.

By using a triple mower that could do the job in half the time, moisture variation would be reduced by roughly 50%. That simply means that long before the forage is in the bunk, more consistent and ideal moisture reduces leaf losses, and that drives better retained quality. If all goes well, after packing, the more consistent moisture profile of the forage cut by the triple mower should also mean greater fermentation consistency and higher retained quality.

A triple mowing article without a reference to “hay in a day” would be analogous to an egg without the yolk. To me, the term has become somewhat clichéd through overuse and confusion. Frequently, the discussion is applied only to non-conditioning mowers, yet conditioners remain relevant. First, the main driver of the “hay in a day” concept is simply a wide-spreading swath, something that is well understood to offer substantial benefits.

Non-conditioners notably lay a wide swath. And lacking conditioning elements, they reduce leaf loss. Compared to conditioner versions, non-conditioning mowers generally have lower up-front costs, save on horsepower and offer similar high productivity. With typical bunk silo moistures, harvesting often begins soon after the initial rapid drying or stomatal leaf drying phase. This is important because conditioning has little influence during the early drying phase. That means even in northern latitudes with ideal weather, non-conditioning is adequate and offers the potential for greater retained quality.

advertisement

But what about less-than-ideal weather conditions? Every harvest year has its own unique challenges. Outside of the obvious, 2020 will also be remembered as a year challenged with problematic weather fluctuations. I selected my words regarding non-conditioners very carefully. Despite advancements, the weather remains unpredictable, and poor weather impacts forage quality. Reflecting on World Dairy Expo just a few years ago, I visited with many producers working without conditioning mowers who were struggling. Having been to Wisconsin during August that year, I can attest it was uncharacteristically wet, and the mosquito crop was more vicious than I had ever experienced anywhere.

When it comes to haylage, I lean toward triple mower-conditioners with the versatility to provide some crop manipulation. Like the non-conditioning versions, conditioning machines can also lay fast-drying wide swaths, yet mechanical conditioning shows a clear drying advantage. It’s notable to add they require more power than a non-conditioner and are available with flail-tine/impeller or intermeshing roll conditioning. Intermeshing roll conditioning is preferred for alfalfa where leaf loss is a concern. When weather conditions do not require intense conditioning, I always recommend lessening intensity. It’s easy to simply raise the flail-tine hood, slow the flail-tine rotor or increase the roll gap. This will help retain leaves, which always drives higher retained forage quality.

In some commercial dry-hay markets, triple mowers are growing with productivity aligned to high-capacity large square balers. Making dry hay almost always requires conditioning across all markets, even when triple mowers have been adopted. The exception is grass hay production where favorable weather persists. A caution in the commercial hay West is that wide spreading can mean increased bleaching or color loss. Likewise, it may also drive extremely fast drying and the potential to bale before color loss becomes problematic. Triple mowers on high-horsepower tractors do well in dry land, wheel-line and pivot-irrigated fields. Flood-irrigated conditions remain challenging with borders, ditches and water checks.

My last words are a cautionary point on bunk filling and speed. Harvesting faster and with greater efficiency creates new challenges. Generally, the faster forages are delivered, the thicker the layers become, and the more packing time is reduced. The potential result is increased oxygen inclusion that may increase fermentation temperatures that negatively impact forage quality. If you’re considering upgrading your equipment, don’t forget the packing tractors that can keep pace to maintain the greatest retained forage quality.  end mark

Jordan J. Milewski
  • Jordan J. Milewski

  • Hay and Forage, Crop Preparation Marketing Manager
  • New Holland

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS