What you need to know to maximise

your hay and silage making

Whether you're running a large dairy farm or a small lifestyle block, your hay and silage is too valuable a resource to waste. Having the right tools and knowing how to use them properly can be the difference between ample high-quality feed and rotting bales of hay.

The timing of your harvest is too important to your farm’s profitability for it to be dependent on a contractor’s busy schedule as it is a rather particular process. Having your own robust and reliable forage harvesting equipment puts you in control and allows you to focus on quality and yield.

Here's what you need to know in order to get the most out of your hay and silage-making.

Hay and silage making tips for dairy and livestock farmers

When to cut for best silage

 When to cut for best silage

There are several factors that come into play when deciding the best time to cut grass for silage. These include weather, where the grass is at in its growth stage and soil conditions. You want a window of at least two or three days featuring weather with low humidity, as these conditions make for faster drying. The grass is ready to cut when the leaves are fully developed, but just before the seed heads appear. Cutting too early will result in lower yields, while cutting too late will produce silage with a lower nutrient value. This is because the plant’s energy is going into seed production rather than stem and leaf growth. Finally, plan which paddocks to cut first based on species and soil type keeping in mind it's best to cut the wetter paddocks last.

 When to tedder for best silage

Using a tedder to spread the cut hay over the paddock means it dries faster – by as much as 40% in some areas. This means less waiting time before baling and less danger of rotting from moisture. The tedder’s action of spreading the hay over a wide area also helps break up any clumps in the forage which prevents noxious masses forming.

If you have done a morning cut, allow a wilting period of two to four hours, then ted while the hay is still moist. In very damp conditions, tedding may need to be done immediately after cutting. A second pass is usually done the next day, and the hay is raked and baled that afternoon.

When to tedder for best silage

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When to rake and bale

Picking the right time to rake and bale is all about moisture content, and its different for both hay and silage. See the guides below:

 When to rake and bale silage

 When to rake and bale silage

The optimum moisture level for wrapped silage bales is in the 45 to 55% range. Forage below 45% moisture content does not produce as many acids for fermentation and has a higher pH level, it will also be even more important to exclude oxygen to prevent combustion and overheating. Forages baled at moisture levels above 55 to 60% are at higher risk of secondary fermentation, not only this but there is less dry matter per bale, decreasing the feed value per bale and increasing storage costs. Typically, silage bales should be wrapped within four hours of baling, but if that time frame cannot be met, you want to finish the job absolutely no longer than 12 hours later.

 When to rake and bale hay

As a general rule, optimum moisture content for raking and baling hay is just below the 20% mark. However this differs with bales sizes:

  • Small square bales should have no more than 18 to 20% moisture. Small bales have the highest moisture tolerance.
  • Large square bales are more densely packed and should have lower moisture content. It’s recommended that their moisture content is within the 12 to 16% range.
  • Round Hay Bales have a fairly steady moisture tolerance of 15%. Raking and baling at this point is optimum.
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The right gear for the job - what rake is best for you?

Dive into any online forum about rakes and you will find each type – parallel bar, wheel and rotary – has strong support from those that use them. Sometimes that support is based on research, other times support is based on legacy, it's just always what they've used.

When selecting a rake, understand that the best option will vary with the farm, topography, type of forage being harvested, windrow or swath orientation and the moisture of the forage being raked. Using the wrong equipment for the job could harm the equipment, here’s what you need to know.

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Parallel bar rakes

Parallel bar rakes follow a simple design that is over 100 years old. They still work and have their supporters, they usually cost less than a V or Rotary rake, but they are losing ground in the market to the more modern and effective wheel and rotary rakes.

Sitrex-Reel

Reel (wheel) rakes

V Reel rakes - also called V rakes or wheel rakes - are ideal for quickly and economically raking dry hay or silage. V rakes can operate at higher speeds than bar or rotary rakes, which means more acres raked an hour. They also don’t have high hp requirements, often making them easy enough to pull with a farm Ute! The downside, according to several studies, is that of the three types, reel rakes produce the most soil contamination.

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Rotary rakes

Rotary rakes are more complex and therefore more expensive than bar or wheel rakes. They're also the first choice for moving higher-moisture forage, and they produce a “fluffy” windrow that allows good air movement and therefore drying. Rotor settings and ground speed need to be in sync, but when set up properly a rotary rake produces the least soil contamination of all rakes.

Combinations & Haymakers

Combinations & Haymakers

Combination tedder rakes & Haymakers are machines that perform both raking & tedding, these machines are often popular among farmers / lifestylers & smaller contractors as they perform the raking tasks & tedding which cuts down on the amount of machinery required. However, where large amounts of forage have to be tedded & raked the purpose-built machines are still the best choice as they cover more ground faster. Sitrex UNI400’s are the most advanced combination haymakers in New Zealand.

Hay rakes for cropping farmers

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While it's important not to get too small a machine for the work you will do, it's also important not to spend more money than you need on gear that is too big. Crop farmers are typically harvesting light straw or crop residues, meaning they can use lighter rakes such as the Sitrex TR series of side rakes. These lightweight wheel rakes need only a 30 to 35 hp tractor in front, easily switch between transport and working mode, and can operate in the field at more than 20 kph.

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Hay and silage making tips for lifestyle block farmers

Making your own hay is a good option for lifestyle block farmers keen to ensure their animals get the best feed possible. Selecting the right equipment is key. One way to reduce the capital outlay is to choose machinery that can do more than one thing, such as Sitrex’s UNI400 tedder/rake or HM300 haymaker, which can spread, ted and windrow.

Mini round bales are the best option for lifestylers because of ease of handling. A mini round bale weighs about 20 kg and can be easily lifted by one person. The baler itself is also light, weighing much less than a square baler. It will fit onto the back of a ute for transportation, is safer to operate on hills, and tractors of any size can easily pull them.

Working safer and smarter on the farm

Using the right tools for the job is a key part of any farm’s safety strategy. Also important are regular checks to ensure equipment is in a safe working condition. Know the limits of the machinery you are using and do not exceed them.

This is important not just for safety but also for crop quality. “Working smarter” means knowing the best time to cut the crop, and tedding when moisture levels are optimal. Such strategies will ensure you get the most return on your investment.

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Maintenance of haymaking and silage making machinery

The window for a good harvest is narrow, so any gear failures can prove frustrating and costly.

This is why it's important your equipment has been checked and serviced and is ready to go.

Before the season starts you should:

 

Apply grease to all moving parts and joints, and clean engine compartments and heat exchangers of dirt and debris.

 

Check tyres for correct pressure and wear. Under-inflated tyres affect fuel economy and are a health and safety risk.

 

Apply touch-up paint to scratched or corroded areas and follow up with an application of grease. This will help protect your equipment from corrosion and oxidation.

 

Check fluid levels and condition, and do any scheduled oil changes. This is particularly important for gearboxes as deterioration can lead to damaged seals. Monitor machine hours during harvesting and follow recommended fluid and service intervals.

 

Inspect all parts for integrity and fatigue, taking particular notice of tines, arms and other parts that are high-wearing or have high-stress loads when in operation, replacing these parts now can save you costly downtime during harvest.

 

The final check is to start the machine up and check for rough running or error warnings. Rodents love to make a winter home in large machinery, and they also love to chew wiring, so any warning lights may signal a severed connection.