Hay Conditioning Tips: VIDEO

Expert advice on making top-quality hay and maintaining critical harvest cycles.

By Tharran Gaines | Photos By Richard Banks

Setting the Roll Gap. “Setting the roll gap is the most crucial adjustment of the conditioner,” says Dean Morrell, product marketing manager for Hesston by Massey Ferguson hay products. He advises producers to set the conditioner roll gap at 1/16 inch as a starting point, which creates pinch points along the stem to speed stem drying. Setting the gap too tight crushes leaves, increasing loss of critical nutrients. That’s why it’s important to visually check the crop after a few feet.

Uniform Conditioning. Morrell also urges producers to take advantage of the 110-inch conditioner rolls that are standard on all but the smallest mower-conditioner model. The extra width not only increases the capacity of the header, but allows the crop mat to be distributed into a thinner mat for more uniform conditioning and faster drydown.

Width of Windrow. Mark Atkinson, owner of Atkinson Hay Company in Dixon, Calif., says he likes to spread the windrow as wide as possible early in the season, especially since he has his crew rake two windrows together ahead of his fleet of two MF2170 3 x 4 rectangular balers and 10 MF1843 three-twine balers. In fact, he recently traded his wheel rakes for 17-wheel models so he can lay the crop into wider swaths for faster drydown and still pull two windrows into one.

Visual Checks. “As it gets hotter, I start pulling the windrows tighter to keep the hay from bleaching out in the sun,” Atkinson adds, noting that the warmer temperatures and summer breezes compensate for the tighter pattern. “Regardless of the crop or time of year, though, I always make sure the crop stems are being crimped without damage to the leaves. That means getting out of the cab and physically checking the windrow every once in a while.”

Making Adjustments. Since Atkinson harvests and markets everything from alfalfa and grass hay to sudan, oats and rye, it also means setting the pressure and conditioner roll gap differently for each crop. That’s one reason he likes the TwinMax Advanced Conditioner on his newest Hesston WR Series windrower. With two sets of rolls that can be individually adjusted, the TwinMax conditioner provides even more options and twice the conditioning action. The twin rollers can also handle more crop volume without missing part of the crop.

“If you don’t condition the crop, and condition it well, staying on a 28- to 32-day hay harvest cycle can be tough for any producer,” Morrell concludes.

The Hesston Advantage

Conditioning speeds drying by opening the waxy cuticle layer surrounding the stem and allowing moisture to evaporate faster. According to Robert “Bobby” Grisso, Extension engineer, Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia State University, “Hay plants with an 80%  moisture content must lose about 6,000 pounds per acre of water to produce a ton of hay at 20% moisture.” That’s approximately 723 gallons of water … which helps explain why crop conditioning is so important.

According to Dean Morrell, product marketing manager for Hesston® by Massey Ferguson hay products, that’s the reason Hesston windrowers and mower conditioners use either rubber-on-steel or steel-on-steel conditioner rolls that are fully engaged, not intermeshed. This allows conditioner rolls to crimp plant stems along their entire length. Crop leaves are retained for higher protein content, and stems dry at the same speed as the leaves.