Hay Harvesting Losses - Frequently Asked Questions

 
 
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 When Can Losses in Hay Yield and Quality from Machinery Happen?
  • Yield and quality losses can happen when:
  • Mowing/Cutting
  • Conditioning
  • Raking
  • Tedding
  • Baling
  • Storing
What Can I Do to Minimize Cutting and Conditioning Losses?
No matter what type of mower or conditioner you use, make sure it is properly adjusted. This is critical to successful hay-making.

If you are using a mower-conditioner, check and adjust it yearly according to the manual. Make sure the cutting mechanism is sharp and properly adjusted. Cut your hay crop cleanly to minimize shattering and leaf loss. Dry matter losses from cutting can range from 1-7%.

Impeller or flail-type conditioners are better suited to grass hay, while sickle roller conditioners work better for alfalfa. Roll pressure and clearance set too tightly can excessively damage the plants. Over-conditioning can lead to significant leaf losses, and increase raking and baling losses later on due to broken plants.

How Can I Reduce Losses due to Raking or Tedding?
Tedders break up a windrow that has become dense and will not dry properly. Tedding should be done in the morning after the dew is off, but while the hay is still tough. Tedders work better for grass hay than alfalfa hay. If done when the hay moisture content is above 50%, leaf losses can be kept below 5% of dry matter. Losses when grass hay is tedded can range from 2-3%. You can lose up to 15% of dry matter when alfalfa hay is tedded at lower moisture contents.

Every time you rake hay there is some leaf loss. The drier the hay is when you rake it, the more leaves you are going to lose. This is especially true for alfalfa hay. The best time to rake is when the moisture content of the hay is around 40%. Raking when hay is below 40% moisture can lead to losses of 5-25%. Hay that is almost dry is less likely to shatter when raked in the morning when covered with dew. Grass hay tends to lose fewer leaves than alfalfa hay when raked.

Are Baling Losses Significant?
Improper baling can cause dry matter losses of 5-25%. A major cause of this loss is using poorly maintained equipment. A baler that has broken or missing teeth on its pick-up will be less efficient and leave more hay on the field than one in good working order. A poorly adjusted pick-up on a large round baler can cause losses of up to 12%. Pick-up losses can also occur when the machine is pulled at a faster ground speed than the rotating speed of the pick-up. On average, pick-up losses range from 1-3%.

Research has shown that expanding-bale chambers lose about 2-4% of dry matter, while fixed-bale chambers can lose 3-8%. These losses can be as high as 18% when baling alfalfa using a large round baler. Losses when baling alfalfa are higher when using a large round baler compared to using a large square/rectangular baler.

One of the best ways to reduce losses in the bale chamber is to minimize the number of turns within the chamber. You can do this by keeping the feed rate as high as possible. To keep the feed rate high, try to have a large volume of hay entering the baler at a good pace.

What about Hay Moisture?
Hay moisture content is the most important factor when it comes to leaf loss. Baling too dry can cause higher pick-up and bale chamber losses than baling at the correct moisture level. More leaves are lost, which can lower forage quality and yield.

Bale your hay at about 15-18% moisture when making large round bales. Getting consistent moisture content can be a challenge. Hay fields often vary in landscape, species distribution and yield, which can all affect the moisture content of the material. At this moisture level, you have a better chance of producing firm, well shaped bales that are less likely to spoil. Bale chamber losses will also be kept to a minimum.

Are There Differences in Losses Between Large Round and Large Rectangular/Square Balers?
Losses from large round balers can be higher than from rectangular balers. In one study in Manitoba, pick-up losses from a large round baler ranged from 0.5-11.0%, but were only 0.5-5.0% for rectangular balers. The large round baler also had higher chamber losses, from <5.0-17%, compared to 2.0-5.0% for the rectangular baler.

Are There Differences in Losses Between Grass and Legume Hay?
Legumes are more susceptible to leaf loss than grasses. This can lead to potentially higher dry matter and quality losses when making legume hay compared to grass hay.

Typical Dry Matter Losses and Quality Changes During Hay Harvest Operations
Dry Matter Loss (% DM)
Changes in Nutrient Concentration (%DM)
Average
Range
CP
NDF
TDN
Legume Crops
Mowing/conditioning
2
1-4
-0.7
1.2
-1.4
Tedding
3
2-8
-0.5
0.9
-1.2
Swath Inversions
1
1-3
0
0
0
Raking
5
1-20
-0.5
1.0
-1.2
Baling, small bale
4
2-6
-0.9
1.5
-2.0
Baling, round bale
6
3-9
-1.7
3.0
-4.0
Grass Crops
Mowing/conditioning
1
1-2
0
0
0
Tedding
1
1-3
-0.2
0.4
-0.4
Swath Inversions
1
1-3
0
0
0
Raking
5
1-20
-0.3
0.5
-0.6
Baling, small bale
4
2-6
-0.5
0.9
-1.0
Baling, round bale
6
3-9
-1.0
1.8
-2.0
Source: Adapted from Rotz and Muck, 1994. Changes in Forage Quality During Harvest and Storage. Pp.828-868. In G. Fahey, Jr. et al (eds.). Forage Quality, evaluation, and utilization. Am. Soc. Agron. Madison, WI.

Sources:
Baling Strategy Cuts Losses
Cutting, Conditioning and Raking for Faster Drying Hay
Haying Systems in North America: A Review
High Quality Hay Management
Management Tips for Round Bale Hay Harvesting, Moving and Storage
Proper Handling and Curing of Hay
Quality Hay Production
 
 
 
 
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This information published to the web on May 29, 2012.
Last Reviewed/Revised on September 19, 2016.