If you run a small farm and own a small tractor, then you want to make your own hay.
Are you tired of paying high prices for hay or are you constantly disappointed with the quality of hay available? Ultimately, you don’t want to depend on others to get quality hay to feed your animals and you know you can do better, but you own a small tractor and people you know say it can’t do the job.
All you need to do is choose the right equipment for your tractor. In this article, we’ll take you to step by step through the process of choosing the best equipment for your needs. Well, let’s get started.
This is the first place to start, is to determine the specifications of your tractor. Its weight, size, and horsepower are the most important characteristics. You can find this information in your tractor’s owner’s manual. If you don’t have a manual, use a search engine and enter name of your tractor + specifications.
For our part, we want to advise you a few resources to help you:
Choosing a tractor mower
There are a large number of hay mowers of various shapes and sizes on the market right now: mini mowers with sickle booms, large trailed mower-conditioners, and self-propelled machines.
We’ll take a look at those mowers that are designed to be mounted on your tractor’s three-point hitch. Such equipment meets most of the needs of people who have a compact or small tractor.
Choosing the type of haymow
Hay mowers come in three basic types:
- Sickle mowers
- Disc mowers
- Drum mowers
Each type of mower has advantages and disadvantages. To choose the mower that’s best for you, first determine which mower fits the size of your tractor. You are limited by the size of your tractor and its power, so not every mower will fit your tractor. Then you can already determine the type of mower and its characteristics.
This type of mower is best suited for small and low-power tractors. The sickle bar mower was the first mechanical mower, now its design has not changed much. Sickle bar mowers work in a reciprocating action, moving triangular blades forward and backward between guard pins that are fixed stationary. Each such forward and backward movement cuts grass and other vegetation between the guard tines. The operation of such a mower is similar to that of a hair clipper. A sickle mower can be used not only for cutting hay, but also for any haymaking task.
The best sickle bar mowers on the market right now use a double action where the guard moves in the opposite direction of the blades. This doubles the effective blade speed and also greatly reduces machine vibration. The mower is therefore much quieter and has a longer life.
An example of this type of mower is the DCM Italia 150.
The sickle bar mower design is somewhat outdated and has advantages and disadvantages.
The main advantages of a sickle-beam mower are:
Not the most powerful tractor with little horsepower is required. If you have a low-power tractor (under 15 horsepower), this would be the only true choice for you. If you have an older compact tractor, such as the Kubota 5000 or 6000 series, the sickle mower will be your best choice.
The low weight of the mower. The sickle mower is the lightest mower and therefore your best and safest option. If your tractor is very light or has a very low front weight, this mower will be the best choice for you.
The ability to mow hay at an angle. If you need to mow the grass on uneven ground: ditches, hills, and so on, then sickle mowers are the only type of mower that can do the job. Some sickle mowers allow you to work in an upright position to cut hedges or the edges of cuttings.
Less dust. A mower makes less movement and therefore leaves less dust. Disc and drum mowers create a large swirl of moving air through the blades. At the same time, sickle bars have relatively little movement, and as a result, less dirt and dust will enter the air and hay.
Disadvantages of the sickle bar mower:
- Forward Speed. This is where the sickle mower loses out. Its forward speed is much slower than drum and disc mowers. They can mow a wide swath, but the maximum speed is half that of the other models.
- Blade Repair. As a consequence of the previous problem, when blades become dull, replacing or sharpening them can take a certain amount of time and money.
- Mower clogging. Sickle mowers become stubborn when dealing with very dense material that is stuck in the mower. When the blades begin to dull, clogging is also a big problem.
- Cost of repair. Fixing various damages due to clogged mower blades can be quite costly.
This is a more modern type of mower, which was invented as a logical extension of the sickle design. They are used on high-power tractors. Instead of blades that move back and forth on the cutter bar, disc mowers have small discs mounted on top of the cutter bar, which rotate at high speed. Two freely rotating blades are usually bolted to each disc.
The discs are driven by a shaft or gears that are inside the cutter bar. The mower bar essentially slides on the ground, which determines the mowing height, as with the sickle bar.
The advantages of a disc mower:
- High speeds. If your tractor’s power and horsepower are pretty great, you can drive through the field pretty fast (speeds of up to 15 mph or more are possible).
- No clogging. Disc mowers handle thick and hollow hay very well.
- Ease of transition. With disc mowers, a hydraulic elevator allows you to go from work to transport and back without leaving your tractor. This will save you a lot of time when mowing several small fields.
Disadvantages of the disc mower:
- Mower weight. If you have hydraulics and enough horsepower, but your tractor is too light, this can be a problem. Because the mower is much heavier compared to a sickle bar mower, there may be an additional danger in tipping. When the mower is in an upright transport position, it can tip the entire tractor when heavily loaded.
- Availability of hydraulics. Your tractor must have hydraulics, otherwise, you won’t be able to lift the mower bar vertically to get through tight places and garage doors.
- Cost of repairs. While mowing the grass, you may hit your mower on something hard and not safe for the mower, like a boulder or an old fence post. Disc mowers can be very expensive to repair. So you should consider this factor.
Drum mowers are designed to be very sturdy and simple machines. They have only a fraction of the parts of either sickle mowers or disc mowers. They can also work with little tractor power. When the drums pick up speed, they don’t draw much power from the tractor to keep turning afterward.
Drum mowers have only recently become a popular choice in the United States, although they have been used quite extensively in Europe for over 40 years. Drum mowers differ significantly in design from the above types of mowers.
The standard drum mower has two drums rotating in opposite directions. The drums in a drum mower are powered by a gearbox instead of driving the cutting blades from the cutter bar. Each drum is a cylinder, 10.14 inches in diameter and 15 to 24 inches long, with a large disc attached to the bottom. Depending on the mower model, there are 3 or 4 freely rotating blades attached to each of these discs. At the bottom of this assembly is a platter that is mounted on ball bearings. This platter does not rotate with the rest of the drum, but rather slides on the ground and can rotate freely in any direction depending on the surface it slides on.
During operation, the entire drum assembly with the drum, disc, and blade rotate and create a large momentum, which helps the drum mower to overcome thick areas of the field, resulting in a very high quality mowing.
As the cylinders of the mower move on the field, they rotate towards each other, and as a result, the cut grass passes between the cylinders and falls into a swath behind the mower. The hay must then be spread with a tedder or rake so that the hay dries properly. This has been a major disadvantage of drum mowers for quite some time, but recently there have been mower models that have solved this problem with a special conditioning system. This conditioning system pushes the cut hay out the back of the mower as it unfolds, allowing the hay to dry in place. This saves a lot of money on extra trips across the field with a rake or tedder and reduces the drying time of the grass to one day.
The advantages of a drum mower:
- High speed. A drum mower is faster than a disc mower, and twice as fast as a sickle mower. That’s why the grass is mowed quite fast.
- Low power requirement. For older medium power tractors with modest power requirements, this feature is especially important.
- No need for hydraulics. The drums are manually rotated to the rear of the tractor for transport. It is therefore not necessary to have hydraulics on the tractor.
- Durability. Drum mowers are the strongest and most durable of all mower types. They rarely get damaged, even from hitting a rough, stationary object. This makes them the best choice for mowing unruly pastures or for contract mowing in unfamiliar fields.
Disadvantages of the drum mower:
- Swathing. Most drum mowers windrow the crop, it will not dry in the field without spreading or double raking. Some types of mowers solve this problem with an additional conditioning system, reducing drying time by spreading the cut crop.
- Contour mowing. It is not advisable to put the mower out on a downward slope because the drums are very heavy. Drum mowers also don’t rotate enough to accurately copy extreme contours like a sickle mower. Therefore, you’ll need extra work in these areas.
- Mower weight. Drum mowers are quite heavy, which can have a negative effect on tractors with a light front end. This can make it difficult to maneuver and transport if the tractor’s front wheels are not held by enough weight. When compared to other types of mowers, drum mowers are very heavy compared to other types of mowers of the same width.
Choosing a hay tedder
Heavy hay in humid climates can dry faster if you spread it out. It is also an indispensable machine for spreading hay to dry after it has rained.
A tedder is a machine that spreads and turns loose hay in the field. This action exposes the hay on the underside of the pile to air and sunlight, which speeds up the drying process. The tedder rotates the hay with its tines and ejects it from the back of the machine.
Although some farmers do without a tedder, it is wise to have a machine that can do this important job if and when you need it. Also, if you have a conventional conditioning drum mower, the swath created by the mower will not dry unless the spread is cut or turned over.
Spreaders come in all sizes, from 6 feet wide to over 20 feet wide for larger tractors. They don’t consume much horsepower, so any tractor with a PTO can run them. They come in both a towable design and a 3-point connection. The advantage of the 3-point connection is that they can be lifted over obstacles, such as windrows, and are easier to transport. The disadvantage of the 3-point connection is that some tractors may not be able to lift them.
Some rakes can be used as hay tedders with varying degrees of success. Wheeled rakes can flip a windrow or fluff up hay spread across the field, but they tend to leave clumps of hay that don’t dry well.
Certain types of machines are specifically designed to convert between raking and tedding. In most cases, however, switching from one to the other takes a lot of effort, which costs precious time, usually when you don’t have it.
The rake design for use as a hay tedder is a belt rake. It only takes a few seconds to switch from a rake to a tedder with this machine, and they do spread the hay evenly, just like a tedder should.
If you don’t want to buy a separate tedder, a belt rake is a good option.
Choosing the right hay rake
To bale hay, it must be raked into windrows. There is an opinion that hay can be baled directly from a swath or windrow created by a mower, but this is a misconception. There are several reasons why this option would not work.
- In most climates, hay will not dry well unless it is fluffed or turned with a tedder or rake.
- The path left by the mower is usually not conducive to picking up the hay, resulting in a lot of hay being missed.
- It is usually possible to rake at least two mower windrows into one windrow for baling, resulting in fewer passes through the field with the baler and better, denser bales.
There is a wide variety of rakes to choose from. Different rake styles seem to be preferred in different parts of the country.
The four best known styles are wheel rakes, parallel bar rakes, rotary rakes, and band rakes.
Wheeled rakes are simple machines that require minimal adjustments for proper operation. The economical travel drive simplifies operation and reduces costs.
This type of rake is designed to provide speed and productivity when handling dry hay.
However, its direct contact with the ground can cause dirt and stones to get into the hay, which reduces the overall quality of the hay. In addition, the swaths will not be as light and fluffy as those produced by rotary or belt rakes.
Only minimal drying will occur after the hay is raked, so raking can’t be difficult until the hay is fully cured.
Wheeled rakes are large, so they take up a lot of space when stored. Also, using a three-point wheeled rake requires some practice, especially if your field has many curves or corners.
Even with these disadvantages, wheeled rakes are very popular because of their low purchase price and ease of maintenance.
These rakes are suitable for both wet forage and dry hay, giving them more versatility than wheel rakes.
These powered rakes create a uniform and fluffy swath that allows crops to dry faster. Gentle rotary raking minimizes leaf loss and provides a uniform swath for good bale formation.
These rakes are suitable for both wet forage and dry hay, giving them greater versatility than wheeled rakes. The rake’s mechanical drive allows you to move heavy wet crops. It also prevents the tines from coming into contact with the ground, minimizing the amount of contamination that gets on the crop. This results in a higher quality forage.
Rotary rakes come in a variety of sizes for almost any size tractor. These machines are easy to maneuver and closely follow changing field contours for clean raking. They can also be three-point hitched or trailed, allowing them to be used with most PTO tractors.
Parallel Bar Rakes
Rotary rakes and belt rakes are priced the same and offer additional benefits, such as the ability to produce loose swaths in all crop conditions.
These machines, called by different names in different regions of the United States, are relatively simple, with designs dating back more than 100 years. However, this type of rake is being replaced by other designs. Wheel rakes are a more economical choice and provide the same raking quality as parallel bar rakes.
While many of these older rakes are still in use throughout the United States, if you are considering purchasing a new rake, you will likely find a different design that will better suit your needs and provide greater versatility.
Belt rakes have all the advantages of rotary rakes. They can handle both wet and dry forage; they produce a fluffy, even swath; the tines do not touch the ground, which reduces forage contamination; and they come in a variety of sizes.
However, belt rakes have several advantages over rotary rakes. For the same rake width, belt rakes are much more compact in size, which makes them much easier to use and store.
Their compact size and lighter weight also make them easier for your tractor to lift, making them easier to transport and navigate over rough terrain. They are available in a wider range of working widths, from more than 10 feet to 5 feet, making them ideal for working in confined areas such as orchards and pine plantations.
The versatility of band rakes cannot be matched by other types of rakes. Switching from a rake to a tedder is as easy as removing the hay stop and adjusting the wheel, which only takes a few seconds and no tools.
Lowering the rake with a simple wheel adjustment allows the tines to make aggressive contact with the ground, which is great for combing lawns or preparing a seedbed for seeding.
The smaller size also makes for a great leaf rake, further increasing its value on a small farm.
Ribbon rakes are also the easiest type of rake to use. Because it’s so compact and runs directly behind the tractor, the operator spends less time checking where his rake is actually located. And because it’s powered by the tractor’s PTO, it continues to work while stationary or when reversing, allowing the rake to be used in reverse in tight spaces. It also handles turns better and doesn’t accumulate hay like a wheeled rake when turning.
So you get a straighter, fluffier, and more uniform swath that dries better and is easier to follow with a baler.