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Mechanics Corner: Choosing the correct hay gathering tool

Contributed by John Schutte Published on 18 July 2017
Hay merger

Across the country, millions of acres of hay are baled or chopped every year. Nearly all of this hay needs to be gathered into a windrow to allow it to be picked up for harvest.

There are many different styles of hay gathering tools, at a variety of prices, to suit any size of operation.

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Hay gathering tools are often underrated in a haying operation but can increase baler or chopper performance. An even windrow allows the operator to run the machine at a consistent speed and helps prevent plugging. The major differences in gathering tools are the working width, evenness of the windrow and the quality of the hay gathered.

Wheel rake

Generally, the most cost-effective option is a wheel rake. These rakes are ground-driven. Each large wheel moves across the ground and turns, guiding the hay into the windrow. In order to get the best raking performance, ground speed is increased, allowing for more productivity.

When purchasing a wheel rake, it is important to look for plenty of clearance where the crop will be passing through the machine to prevent plugging. When using a wheel rake, there are also less requirements for the raking tractor. Most rakes only require one or two hydraulic remotes and 20 to 100 horsepower, depending on the size.

A limitation of these rakes is how aggressive they can be in a delicate crop like alfalfa. They also incorporate more ash and foreign material into the windrow than other gathering tools. The windrow created by a wheel rake can become twisted together like a rope, which can limit drying.

Additionally, they are not recommended for silage because a heavier crop is difficult to move, and the rake wheels can struggle to handle the weight without digging in to the field.

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Parallel bar rake

Parallel bar rakes have been around for more than 100 years, providing effective raking for many farmers. They can be ground, power take-off or hydraulically driven. These rakes have rows of teeth that move horizontally and vertically to rake hay together, leaving the hay in a windrow similar to a wheel rake. These machines have many wear points that must be maintained and are usually limited in size unless they are configured in a V-rake design (similar to a wheel rake).

Rotary rake

To make a higher-quality windrow, rotary rakes can be used. Rotary rakes use large-diameter rotors to gather all the hay together to form a windrow. This is similar to using a pitchfork. The gentle raking action makes a “fluffier” windrow, allowing it to continue to dry before the hay is baled.

The windrow is also very even, as each arm grabs the same amount of hay each time around. Since rotary rakes are powered by a power take-off, they can handle wet and heavy crops while still forming a very even windrow. These rakes can vary in size from a single rotor to a quad-rotor rake. Quad-rotors can rake over 50 feet in one pass.

Twin-rotor rakes can be configured in two different styles: center or side delivery. A center-delivery rake can be a great fit for certain situations and particularly well suited for making the first pass in the field. However, side-delivery rakes move the hay from the first rotor toward the second and eventually into one windrow.

This allows for the flexibility to combine two passes into one in lighter crops. A nice feature to add on to rotary rakes is a windrow formation curtain. This helps ensure a square windrow for uniform feeding into a baler.

Merger

For making silage, the best machine to use is a hay merger. When using a merger, the crop is gathered with a pickup, transferred to a belt and carried to the end of the machine, where it is laid into a windrow. The benefit of this method of gathering is: The hay has minimal contact with the ground, reducing ash content.

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In silage, as the ash content is reduced, the quality is increased. In rocky conditions, mergers can also help prevent rocks from getting into the windrow and damaging harvesting equipment.

For the most even windrow when using a merger, it is important to get the hay picked up off the ground evenly without pushing the crop forward. To help with this, operators have to adjust the pickup and ground speeds or have a windguard to hold the crop against the pickup teeth.

Mergers are one of the most expensive ways to gather hay and, with many moving parts, often result in higher upkeep costs. They do, however, help produce the highest-quality forage due to the gentle handling, reduced leaf loss and minimized ash incorporation.

Combination rake and tedder

For smaller operations, investing in a combination rake and tedder can save money. The operating principle behind these is: There are two small rotors with tines that hinge in or out. This either spreads the crop out or gathers it together into a windrow.

These machines do a good job but are usually limited to use with a mower that is 10 feet or less since there are only two rotors to move the hay.

When choosing a hay gathering tool, it is important to take stock of your needs and select the right machine for your situation. Contact your local agricultural equipment dealer to learn more.  end mark

PHOTO: If making silage, the best hay gathering tool for the job is a hay merger because it has minimal contact with ground and reduces ash content. Photo provided by Kuhn NA.

John Schutte is a technical support specialist with Kuhn North America.

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