As spring approaches, you are sitting at your office desk thinking about the next hay season and what you can do to make the job easier and do it in less time.
Mike Seckinger has over 44 years experience as a farm equipment mechanic in southern Indiana.

On the machinery side of the equation, the first step in making hay is mowing the crop. You think the simple solution to accomplish both goals is to get a larger mower.

You soon realize the simple solution is not so simple. You realize you need to decide what size of machine will fit your operation. “Should I get a conditioner or not? And if I want a conditioner, what style – roll or flail? Do I need a disc cutter bar or standard sickle bar? What can I afford?”

The size of the machine is determined by how many acres you plan to mow, how much time you have available and how much time Mother Nature allows you to get the job done. Your options start with a sickle bar mowing machine and sickle bar mower conditioner; the next upgrade is a drum mower. After the drum mower comes the disc mower and disc mower conditioner followed by self-propelled and tractor-mounted triple mowers. Somewhere in this mix is the perfect machine for meeting your objectives.

Mower types

Sickle bar-style machines are the simplest form of mower and have been used for many years. In lighter crops, the sickle bar will cut clean and require minimum upkeep. In heavier crops or lodged crops, plugging can become an issue. The installation of stub guards can prevent plugging of the cutter bar. Once the crop is cut, the next hurdle you may encounter with sickle machines is your ground speed, which may be limited by the volume of material the conditioners can handle effectively.


If you have limited time available to cut the crop, you may decide a disc-type machine is what you need. With a disc machine, the crop can be cut at a higher speed with no plugging, thus reducing the time spent on mowing the crop. Now the decision is how wide of a machine can be used in your situation. A critical consideration is: How much horsepower do you have available? If available horsepower is an issue in your farming operation, then you will need to determine: Is it better to pull a wider machine at a slower ground speed or a narrower machine at a higher ground speed? For some, the deciding factor may come down to how wide your gates are and how narrow the roads are the machine will be transported on.

Conditioner types

A conditioner to shorten the dry-down time may be a priority in your region. There are two types of conditioners available on disc machines: rolls and flails. With a roll conditioner, the hay passes between rolls and the hay is crimped, which breaks the stem at intervals over the stems’ length.

Flail conditioning involves the hay passing over the flails and under a hood, causing the stems in the hay to be rubbed. Is a conditioner with rolls better than flail conditioning or is flail conditioning better than rolls? It all depends on the type of crop you plan to cut. Flails excel in grass-type crops where the stem is a smaller diameter and the undergrowth is leafy. The flails rub the wax off the stem so moisture can escape over the entire length of the stem. In a heavy stem-type crop like boot-stage wheat and sudangrass, there is more moisture inside the stems than can be effectively wicked through the stem in a short period of time. In those types of crops, rolls will give you a faster dry-down time since the stem will be broken in numerous places over the length of the stem.

If you decide roll conditioning is the way to go for the type of crops you grow, then the decision is whether to go with rubber rolls or steel rolls. Rubber rolls are gentler on crops such as clover and alfalfa, so if leaf loss is a concern, rubber rolls may be a better fit for your crop. Steel rolls crimp the hay more aggressively with crimps closer together over the length of the stem.

Flail conditioners have an advantage in light crops where streaking may occur. The flail conditioner forms more of a vacuum at the cutter bar to suck the material over the cutter bar, whereas roll conditioners have a tendency to blow the light crop down ahead of the cutter bar.

Self-propelled and tractor-mounted triple mowers are machines that can lay down vast amounts of hay in a short time span. While you find these machines across the country, the West is where their numbers are greatest. Until some other hay-mowing innovation comes along, these machines are in the top tier when it comes to productivity.

Cost of ownership

This brings us to the last consideration in my list: cost of ownership. This is a detail that can be hard to quantify. Yes, you know how much the check was written for, but ownership involves more than the numbers written on a check. Your saved time has a value, and a quality hay crop certainly carries a high benefit for your bottom line. Only you can put a value on these and what they mean to you and your family.  end mark

Mike Seckinger has over 44 years experience as a farm equipment mechanic in southern Indiana and says, “What I write is not intended to represent the only way to solve a problem, and it may not always be complete. If you choose to follow some of my procedures, remember to always practice safety first. Wear the correct clothing and safety equipment, and use the equipment’s safety devices.”