Northern New York Agricultural Development Program Press Releases

August 6, 2006

Contact: Jerry H. Cherney, Cornell University, 607-255-0945
Peter Barney, Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, 315-379-9192
Jon Greenwood, Greenwood Dairy, 315-386-3231

A New Way to Make Hay in Northern New York?

By some estimates, as much as 25 percent of a hay crop can be lost to inclement weather. So, speeding up the process for making haylage � finely cut hay stored in silos or feedbunks - while improving the quality of the cut forage equals time saved, a better dairy feed, and increased milk production.

With funding from the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, farmers Cornell University researchers and Cornell Cooperative Extension educators have begun evaluating wide-swath mowing and hay conditioning as a speedier way for North Country farmers to cut, harvest and store haylage all in one day.

Wide swath mowing spreads cut forage to 90 percent or more of the cut width, creating up to three times more sun exposure over traditionally-harvested narrow windrows. Conditioning forces the moisture out of cut stems and leaves and may speed drying time by as much as 30 percent in some areas.

Project leader Cornell University Crop and Soil Science Professor and NYS Forage Specialist Dr. Jerry H. Cherney says, �While conditioning clearly helps make baled dry hay, it is not clear that conditioning, with either rollers or finger-type conditioners, provides significant help during the drying down process to harvest haylage. Conditioning requires increased power output with added fuel costs, so if that step can be eliminated, farmers save.�

Cornell University Animal Science Associate Professor Debbie J. R. Cherney says same-day wide swath harvesting allows the hay to continue to photosynthesize after cutting and avoids overnight loss of sugars in the forage. A higher sugar content makes a higher quality forage for dairy cows and milk production.

Wide swathing offers a gain of 300 lbs. worth of potential milk production in every ton of dry matter fed as silage and a nine or more percent increase in milk production, says Thomas F. Kilcer of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County. Kilcer, credited with initiating research into the benefits of wide swathing for making an on�farm feed source more easily digested by cows, says, �The value of wide swath harvesting to farmers is more than $40 per ton of dry matter fed as silage.�

Extension educators harvested first-cut haylage with a nine-foot wide swath disc mower on the St. Lawrence County dairy farms of Bernie Moulton and Jon Greenwood. They also cut narrow swaths with a mower and finger-type conditioner, used a mower-conditioner fitted with a wide swath kit mounted behind the conditioner, and used a mower-conditioner to cut a narrow swath that was immediately tedded out to 100 percent of cut width. For comparison, haylage was also harvested from narrow windrows that were left to dry overnight.

Analysis of wide and narrow cut haylage samples harvested on the St. Lawrence County dairy farms of Bernie Moulton and Jon Greenwood is underway at Cornell labs. The extremely dry days on which the hay was cut may skew the first year data.

�Our quality analysis is not yet complete, but we expect, because of the unusually fast drying times, that all treatments, both narrow and wide swath will ensile well. Scientifically, however, we need to reserve judgment until more data can be obtained for comparative evaluation under different cutting and climate conditions,� Cherney says.

Dairymen Jon Greenwood of Greenwood Dairy, Canton, and Bernie Moulton of Paradise Valley Farm, Madrid, say the project is a good start toward learning if the haylage harvesting technique of wide swath mowing without conditioning will help North Country farmers.

Greenwood says, �Same day harvesting gives us an advantage over the next day�s weather. The project results should help us answer the questions of how important is conditioning or is it necessary. Whatever practice we use needs to produce a high quality forage and easily marry the research data with on-farm practicality.�

Moulton, who also custom harvests hay, says, �If we learn that we can cut better quality forages to feed and buy less grain, we will save on feed costs. I am looking forward to the results of the quality analysis and to find out how much grass we can expect to mow in the morning and have harvested by night in one day.�

Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County Field Crops Educator Peter Barney says, �Dairy farmers looking to improve their profitability by feeding high quality forage are interested in the results of this project. If a farmer can harvest quality feed the same day, eliminating the variables that Mother Nature brings in the weather and the plant�s exposure overnight, wide swathing will be a good thing. We need to wait for Dr. Cherney�s final report on how well wide swathing captures quality and if the quality gain makes the wide-swathing system, the labor commitment and the possible purchase of new equipment profitable.�

Barney says farmers who bale dry hay are calling to ask if wide swathing might also speed the process for producing early-cut baled hay to feed on the farm and to sell.

A final report on the wide-swath haylage project in Northern New York is expected later this year. The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program funds research and education outreach for Essex, Clinton, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties. For more information, go online to www.nnyagdev.org. # # #

Tom Kilcer�s Silage Swath Management for Maximum Quality
Fact Sheet