Bale cutters can add value to hay
A new option for balers, available just in the past few years, is the bale cutter. This attachment to the front of a baler cuts the hay into shorter lengths. This option is available for round and square balers.
When these first came out, I was not too enthused because they add cost to the baler, require additional horsepower to operate and take some extra maintenance. However, recently I have come to believe that a cutter on a baler can add value for the hay user and should be considered since hay prices have increased.
Less feed wasted
First, bales made with a cutter are easier to break up in a TMR mixer. The shorter hay pieces are more uniformly distributed throughout the total mixed ration.
Second, data show that cattle waste less when fed bales made with a cutter. When an animal takes a bite out of a bale made with full-length hay, it pulls out a bunch of hay, bites off a portion and drops the rest. The dropped hay, if outside the manger, will be trampled on and not consumed. When cattle eat bales made with a cutter, they pull out smaller portions and swallow most of it.
Producers can expect 5% to 10% improvement in feed use efficiency when animals consume bales made with a cutter compared to bales of full-length hay.
Some data from Pennsylvania show beef cattle experienced slightly higher feed intake when fed bales from a baler with a cutter as compared to animals fed bales of full-length hay. These animals then gained slightly more than those fed bales of full-length hay.
A bale cutter offers no advantage in haymaking or silage fermentation. The value of bales with cut hay is solely to the person feeding the bales. Thus, a farmer feeding hay will see the benefit, and a hay grower must be able to sell bales at slightly higher prices to recover the additional purchase and operating cost of the cutter.
These bale cutters can make hay with a final cut length as short as 1.5 inches. However, using fewer knives to get final hay to be 4 to 6 inches long will provide the most economical benefit.
The 4- to 6-inch length can be swallowed by cattle with minimal chewing and loss. In addition, removing a few knives to get the longer cut will result in less knife expense and energy cost.
In summary, while balers with cutters have slightly higher purchase and operating costs, they can be economically beneficial because they create better hay and haylage feeding characteristics. The benefits of bale cutters have become more valuable as hay prices have increased.
Undersander is a forage agronomist with University of Wisconsin Extension and Research.
This article published in the April, 2010 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.