Tom Kilcer, a former Rensselaer County, N.Y., extension agent and now a crop consultant with Advanced Ag Systems LLC in Kinderhook, N.Y., has conducted several studies and has extensive experience with wide-swath hay harvesting. He’s also tracked haylage harvest research around the country. Kilcer offers several insights that dealers should share with producers to help them improve forage quality.
Maintain optimum feed energy. This is done by mowing, merging or raking, chopping and storing haylage within the same day, if at all possible.
Cut at the correct height. In the Northeast U.S., use crop height as one gauge when to begin cool-season hay harvest. The proper height varies for different types of hay, but is a good indicator is when it’s at its optimum nutrition value.
Research conducted by Jerry Cherney at Cornell Univ. suggests cutting hay that is predominantly grass (80%) when the stand is 17 inches tall. A 50% grass/alfalfa stand should be cut when it reaches 24-30 inches and 100% alfalfa stands should be cut when the tallest alfalfa plants hit 30-32 inches.
Raise mower-cutting height by 3 or 4 inches. This keeps dirt out of the swath. The nominal loss of dry matter is more than offset when the swath remains free of stones or dirt, which is often picked up by the rake or merger when swaths are combined for chopping or baling.
Don’t worry about driving on swaths. By raising the cutterbar to cut 3-4 inches higher, the stubble tends to spring back up and keeps the swath off the ground. The wider swath is only 2-3 inches thick and when you drive on it, it compresses to 0.5-inch thick. According to Kilcer, it dries just as fast. Also, the rake or merger will have no problem harvesting it without dirt and stones that can contaminate feed and damage forage equipment.