May 3, 2007

Contacts: Debbie J.R. Cherney, Cornell University, 607-255-2882;
Peter Barney, Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, 315-379-9192

Research Shows Wide Swath Haymaking Can Produce Faster,
Higher Quality, Less Costly Forage

Farmers in New York are changing the way they make hay. Research by Cornell University researchers and its Cornell Cooperative Extension educators, working with funds from the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP) and the New York Farm Viability Institute, Inc. suggests farmers can use wide swath mowing to shorten the drying time and increase the quality of their forage. Wide swath mowing spreads the cut forage out to 90 percent or more of the cut width, creating up to three times more sun exposure compared to narrow windrows.

Wide swathing research pioneer Thomas F. Kilcer, of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County says with the right weather, some wide-swathed hay has dried to optimum moisture levels in as little as three to five hours. In one research trial with unusually dry weather conditions the drying time of a grass crop to ready-to-chop levels was recorded as less than one hour. A narrow swathed crop can take days to dry and is at risk of complete loss due to prolonged exposure to wet weather.

Kilcer says, �There is a potential gain of 300 lbs. worth of milk production in every ton of dry matter fed as wide-swathed silage. The traditional harvest system of narrow swath mowing (windrowing) works counterproductive to making optimum haylage in a timely manner. Work by various researchers has shown that the early drying stage right after cutting significantly impacts the carbohydrate levels remaining in the forage by the time it reaches the cows.�

A higher sugar content in the forage encouraged by the wide swath harvesting and quick drying technique increases the quality of the forage for dairy cows and supports the potential for increased milk production.

Kilcer cites a report of a Rensselaer County farmer who was able to reduce his grain costs by 3 lbs per cow per day by feeding wide-swathed haylage. That farmer saw an increase in milk production of 4 lbs of milk per cow per day.

Debbie J.R. Cherney, an associate professor of Animal Science at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, served as project leader for a wide swathing project in Northern New York. She says, �Photosynthesis continues after the grass is cut. The overnight loss of sugars in the hay is eliminated by rapid drying and same day cutting and ensiling.�

Jon Greenwood of Greenwood Dairy, Canton, one of two farmers participating in the Northern New York wideswathing project, says, �The take-home message is that working with our existing manpower, equipment and timeline, we need to mow our hay as widely as we can to speed up the drying time. Anyone who can cut and ensile a high quality forage in one day has an important advantage over the uncertainty of the weather.�

For Bernie Moulton of Madrid who harvests his own hay and custom cuts for other farmers with his brother-in-law, says, �We have a very narrow window of time to get all of our customers� fields cut, so we have to keep moving when the weather is right. This year if we are mowing on a cloudy, cool day, we will use our hay tedder to scatter the hay out for faster drying and then rake it in windrows to chop the same day.�

Conditioning Not Needed for Silage
Working on the two Northern New York farms using equipment supplied by Kuhn Farm Machinery, Inc. in Vernon, NY, the NNYADP-funded research team cut forage with 9-foot-wide disc mowers with and without conditioners and a mower fitted with a wide swathing kit made for mowers in Europe by Kuhn Equipment of France. The kit allows production of both wide and narrow conditioned swaths. Conditioning forces the moisture out of cut stems and leaves.

Fields of reed canarygrass with less than 20 percent alfalfa and of 50-50 alfalfa-orchardgrass mix were cut at Moulton�s Paradise Valley Farm. A field of 90 percent alfalfa was cut at Greenwood�s.

Four treatments were applied: mowing without conditioning into wide swaths, mowing with conditioning into wide swaths, mowing with conditioning into narrow swaths, and mowing with conditioning into narrow swaths immediately followed by tedding into wide swaths. The wide swaths covered 90 to 100 percent of the mowed row covered in one pass of the mower. A Kuhn gyro-tedder was used to spread a narrow-conditioned swath out to 100-percent of the mower width. A rotary rake was used to windrow all cuts at the appropriate time.

New York State Forage Specialist Dr. Jerry H. Cherney, says, �The wide swath treatments reached desired silage moisture levels the day of cutting. The conditioned narrow swath immediately tedded into a wide swath dried the fastest of all treatments. No differences were detected in the drying rates between conditioned and unconditioned wide swaths.�

Cherney, a Cornell University Crop and Soil Sciences professor, says no differences were detected in the drying rates between conditioned and unconditioned wide swaths. �Eliminating conditioning from the haymaking process reduces power output and lowers fuel costs.�

Cherney concludes, �Wide swath mowing to ninety percent or more of the cut should consistently result in dry down to silage moisture on the same day when mowing on a day with reasonable drying conditions.�

Results from the trial on the alfalfa field at Greenwood�s dairy farm showed that the conditioned narrow swath tedded into a wide swath reached 65 percent moisture in 5.3 hours and total sugars were 23 percent higher compared to the conditioned wide swath. The conditioned and unconditioned wide swaths reached 65 percent moisture in 6.6 hours. The conditioned narrow swath took more than eight hours to reach 65 percent moisture, making same-day ensiling unlikely.

The fiber digestibility in the conditioned narrow swath tedded into a wide swath and in the unconditioned wide swath was 36 g/kg higher than the narrow swath.

For more information on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, go online to www.nnyagdev.org.  # # #