Hay Rakes for Windrow Grazing

Cattle grazing from windrows during winter.
Cattle grazing from windrows during winter.


According to agricultural scientists with the Montana State University Extension, many ranchers in the northern plains are opting to save on forage costs by incorporating cold-weather windrow grazing. By minimizing the baling, stacking and storage inputs, the MSU experts estimate a 60 to 75 percent reduction in winter feeding expenses. Forage analyses and cattle evaluations show that any differences in nutritional value between hay left in windrows and that baled and stacked is negligible. Getting the most efficiency from windrow grazing, however, requires careful windrow management. This from the MSU group:


Raking windrows together should be done while the hay is still moist and not allowed to dry out. Raking right behind the swather or mower is best. It also helps build a tighter compact windrow that is less susceptible to wind damage.


With this advice in mind, choosing an appropriate hay rake becomes all the more important when initiating windrow grazing. Wheel rakes, though lower in cost than others, are most effective with dry crop harvesting and have a tougher time with wet, heavier windrows. Though parallel bar rakes may deal better with moisture, their relatively fixed widths may make them a poor economic choice, depending on the operation. Rotary rakes, however, thrive in wet and dry forage. Furthermore, their mechanical drive prevents contact between the tines and the ground, keeping most foreign debris out of the windrows. Any farmer or rancher considering windrow grazing – and in need of a hay rake – should seriously think about a rotary rake.


Surveying the latest models can provide data to make an informed choice, funds permitting. Rotor diameter, transport width and working width are all important factors when managing the implement. For example, the H&S rotary model SR420/11H boasts a rotor diameter of 11 feet 2 inches; a transport width of 11 feet 5 inches; and a working width of 13 feet 9 inches. The John Deere 2109 specifies 9 feet, 9 feet 4 inches and 10 feet 8 inches, respectively. Meanwhile, the Kuhn GA 4521 GM measures only the transport width at 7 feet 2 inches and working width at 14 feet nine inches. Understanding widths with reference to grazing requirements is necessary when purchasing a hay rake.


The quality and density of swaths is oft affected by the number of rotor arms and the number of tines per arm. As the tines move in a circular fashion, the hay is compiled into windrows. Keeping with our current examples, the H&S SR420/11H has 11 arms with four double-tines per arm; the John Deere 2109 wields nine arms with three double-tines per arm; and the Kuhn GA 4521 GM possesses 13 arms with four double-tines per arm.


Power take-off requirements are paramount when evaluating hay rakes – unless a new tractor purchase is also in the works. Drawing power from the tractor’s PTO shaft, each hay rake attachment model needs a suitable tractor with enough horsepower to work the implement effectively. Here the manufacturers may present different measurement standards. Our H&S model, for example, pulls its power from a hydraulic drive design, thus measures its requirement in terms of pounds per square inch: 1,000 psi. Contrastingly, the Kuhn hay rake interprets the PTO threshold as a ratio of kilowatts per horsepower, in this case 26 kW/65 hp. The John Deere 2109 gives a straight horsepower necessity of 30 hp.


Windrow grazing has its drawbacks, particularly when winter weather is fierce. Yet the savings are attracting many farmers and ranchers to this practice. Minimizing the problems – wildlife, wind and ice – may be well worth the cost when the advantages of time and money saved are so valuable. Optimizing the windrows with the proper hay rake will further tip the balance in favor of savings.


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