Making Hay with Horses part 1

Making Hay with Horses part 1

by Paul Schmit of Luxembourg

Fond memories

It’s winter time while the following lines are written. What a nice moment it is to think about the “Hämount,” the month of hay, as June was called in the old days in Luxembourg. I remember, being a young boy, I was always very angry if my grand uncle, Raymond Arendt, had already started haying, when I arrived at his farm. I spent all the school vacations at his farm in the north of Luxembourg and enjoyed every moment in this perhaps most luckiest time in my life. Especially the hay month gave me great satisfaction, when the first harvest of the year came in and the hay stack grew in the barn from day to day.

My grand uncle, born in 1912, was always a progressive farmer and was the first in his village Weicherdange, who bought a hay baler, which was in those days only a low-density baling press. Baling was considered at that time by a lot of his neighbors as the ruin of the hay, but has become nowadays the standard in Europe’s modern farming. Conserving the grass in the form of hay, silage or haylage is a must in our part of the world as the livestock has to be kept and fed indoors from the end of October to the beginning of May. If I would have the possibility to return to the old methods of hay making, I wouldn’t hesitate a second. The quality of loose hay is far better than you can ever get when baling it, which can easily cause the formation of mould. However, the need of multiple men and horse power doesn’t make it possible for us, at least at present time.

For learning to make hay with horses there exists no better source of information as the book Haying with Horses by Lynn Miller. A book which I read more than once to be sure that I picked up all the tips and tricks packed into it. This article should not be a simple rehash of this true reference. Its intention is rather to give you a short overview of the hay making methods in Luxembourg of the bygone time and a close look to the machinery we currently use. This article is the first of a series of three. In this first part our strategy of haymaking from mowing to the readiness for baling is explained. The second part will feature the baling, handling and feeding of the hay bales. The last part will focus on our own new developments in “true horse power” machinery for haying.

To better understand our approach, let’s first compare the haying of the horse era with the current methods in Luxembourg. Take a look at the following picture, which shows the Kieffer family from Téinten (see also the summer issue of SFJ) pulling a load of corn sheaves with their Ardennes horse. The same procedure was also used to get the hay into the barn. Making hay was always a very labor intensive job. Horse driven hay loaders, stackers or buck rakes were never used in our region. The hay was always loaded by hand on hay wagons and stored loose in the barn above the stables, cowsheds and pigpens.

Making Hay with Horses part 1
Bringing in a harvest on a smallholder’s farm in Luxembourg around 1940.

To get the hay dry fast enough on the fields, it was turned once or twice a day. This job was done either by hand or by a so called “Kéiermaschin,” a horse driven hay tedder, if the farmer could afford to have one. These machines were in fact nothing else than a mechanized copy of the work done previously by hand. Spring suspended forks, having each four steel tines, were put in a circular movement by a crank shaft, driven itself via a chain drive from the big wheels on each side of the implement. The forks lifted the hay from the ground and kicked it rearwards in the air resulting in a turning and aerating process. As soon as the hay was dry enough, it was raked into swathes, anew by the farm workers swinging wooden hand rakes, or by a dump rake, pulled by a single horse. The last step consisted in loading the hay by hand on the “Läderwon,” the ladder wagon as the many purpose transport carriage, shown in the picture, was called. The heavy wooden double barn doors on the farms were always made to fit a fully charged wagon entering for unloading. It was an unwritten rule for the farmers to never cut more grass in one time than they could bring in during one day. A heavy rain fall could and still can ruin today the whole forage within minutes. As visible on the picture, bringing in a harvest was a collective work. The children not only learned the different tasks on the farm, but also developed a lot of social competences by the team work and finally also by their contact to the farm animals, wherein the horses were always considered as the most prestigious.

What do we have today? Haying has become a “one man show.” The farmers run, assisted by GPS monitored so called “precision farming systems” day and night, along the fields and seem only to make a break for refueling their big bolides. All the different tasks during the haying operation can be achieved by only one person. Most of the grass is conserved in form of haylage by wrapping it into plastic and it seems to me that the quality only plays a secondary role. If the hay fields were cut in the old days twice a year, three to four cuts got common nowadays. The kids in the villages don’t swarm out anymore to assist the farmers during haying. They prefer to stay at home and sit in front of their TV and computer screens. Sure, it’s easier to push a reset button on a so called “joy stick” in order to start a new game than curing the swellings on your hands, which you easily can get if your hands aren’t customized to do other things than crashing cars or killing all the bad enemies in a virtual world. But how much do we all lose by this approach for the future of our true world?

If someone asked me as a young boy what I want to be, I always answered “a farmer.” My grand uncle however advised me to learn another craft and to farm as job on the side. “You will better stand on two legs than on one” was his advice. Now, twenty-five years later, I don’t regret that I listened to him. Maybe, he predicted yet the dramatic drop in prices for agricultural products and the subjugation of the farmers by the bureaucracy, which we have today.

Making Hay with Horses part 1
Alpine farm impressions in front of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains.

The small European continent has, however, also its contrasts and not everywhere farming is done on big scale. Last summer my wife Cathy and I visited Switzerland. We had the pleasure to explore by foot the impressive mountains, and taste the world famous Swiss chocolate and cheese. Near Bern we could retrace some roots of the Amish and we finally also took advantage of the opportunity to visit two farming families, Yvonne & Marcel Scheiwiller, as well as Ursina & Emanuel Schmid, who still use horses. From the 67.000 Swiss farms (1), most of them applying organic or integrated methods, there is only a handful, which still rely on horses. As they breed and use heavy crossbreeds or Freibergers (light Swiss draft horses), they have opted for motorized forecarts, which are hitched to conventional tractor implements. Not truly my way, but it’s sometimes very instructive to look beyond the end of one’s nose and investigate how others see the world.

Every third Swiss farmer runs his farm sideline to a job in a factory or in the tourism business. This is due to the downward trend of the prices paid for farm products, which have nearly halved in the last fifteen years. Without the financial support of the federal government, no Swiss farmer could survive financially anymore. Since 1992 these direct payments are not bound anymore to the output of the farms but to obligations concerning nature and animal protection. The average farm size in Switzerland is about 15.6 ha (~ 38½ acres) (1). This is more or less what was usual in Luxembourg forty years ago and our country wasn’t, and surely will never be, the top of the line within Europe’s agriculture. Some farmers in France or Poland not only measure their farm size by hundreds of hectares but even single field sizes. As nearly half of the Swiss farmers are working in the mountain slopes, it’s still very common for them to do a lot of manual work today. Most of the steep hills are not accessible for tractors or heavy farm machinery. Half-cured, the hay, which the poor Alpine vegetation offers, is mostly stored loose in the barn for being dried afterwards by air blowers, sometimes even heated. Swiss farmers, who deliver their milk to dairies processing it into hard cheese products, are not allowed to feed silage or haylage to their cows.

Not a dogma

Why do I tell you all these figures? Well, because I have been so impressed and also reassured, to see that there still exist so many people in Europe, who preserve traditional farming methods instead of offering up everything on the tide of the globalization. Even if being two different jobs on the farm, making hay has for me some similarities to plowing. By the nice furrows on a freshly plowed field you can read the skills of a farmer and his endeavor to do a perfect job. To make and feed first quality hay is the same: it’s simply a question of honor. Today you can see on a lot of farms bad smelling dark-colored fodder when the plastic is cut off the haylage bales. It’s a shame when the farmers don’t worry anymore about the quality of their fodder. Sure, the cattle as ruminants have a less sensitive digestion than the horses, but I think that every animal deserves a proper fodder.

Hay for horses differs from that used to feed dairy herds. The dairy farmers look especially on the high nutritive values and cut the grass as early as possible. The first cut has to be done as soon as the ears get visible on the grass plants, which is in our region the beginning of May (2). The horse keepers should wait until mid of June, after the blossoming, in order to harvest enough raw fiber. This assures that the fodder is chewed enough and a high content of roughage guarantees a good digestion. The second cut, which we call the “Grumm”, is preferably harvested at the end of August. In September, the hours of sunshine are getting shorter and the weather often cold and damp. However, all this depends on the climate, or should I better say, the climate changing. In 2007 we made the first cut only on 16 July and it wasn’t even worth it to get the implements a second time out of the barn. Rain fell nearly every day during spring and summer and didn’t allow the usual growth on the grassland. But aren’t we living with the hope that the next year will be a better one?

Mowing is preferably done in the morning, as soon as the grass is dried up from dew. This has the advantage that the whole day is given to the hay for curing under the sun rays. The evaporation of the moisture from the grass plants is always on its maximum during the first hours immediately after the cut. If the grass is mown late in the afternoon or even in the evening, you extend the drying time about a day and thus also the risk of a rainfall. Grass rich in raw fiber, grown on extensively used meadows, dries better than highly fertilized grass or grass which is cut too early in the year. Our different fields for haying have approximately the same size, which is about 1.4 ha (~ 3½ acres). This is pure chance, due to the landscape including hedges, fences and tracks around the fields, which exist yet for centuries. This size suits well to a team of horses working in the hot haying weather. Luckily nearly all of the haying fields are just located next to the farm, which helps optimizing the efficiency of our horse work. There is just one field located about 1.5 km (~ 1 mile) away, which we still prefer to use for haying as it is located up hills. Because of the light breeze blowing there, the curing time of the hay is reduced about one day compared to the other fields located near the village.

Regretfully, mowing is currently not a horse job at our farm. As told yet in the summer issue of SFJ, we have sold our ground drive forecart with sickle bar mower, as it kept behind our expectations. Therefore, even if desired, pure horse farming can’t be a dogma for us at the moment. Tractor farmers around us are charged to mow. This isn’t our favorite way for several reasons. First, it’s seems to be impossible for them to set the mower in another way than the so called “razor cut.” Setting the mower too deep will produce a high soil contamination of the hay and a delayed growth of the next harvest. If the turf is cut too deep the grass is deprived completely of its nutritive values. Contrary to other plants, the grass doesn’t stock its reserves in the roots but mainly in the leaves (2). Even if a cutting height of about 6-7 cm (~ 2½”) is always recommended (3), I consider 10 cm (~ 4”) as the better choice.

Second, a higher cutting height means also fewer weeds on the grassland and finally more chance of survival for a lot of animals. Grassland is not only a place where the farmers cut their hay, but also the living space of a lot of insects, amphibians and mammals. In Germany it is estimated that more than 500,000 animals, herein 90,000 fawns, are killed each year during the silage and haying time (4). Also responsible for these dramatic figures is the high working speed of modern farm machinery. The European farmers are getting more and more under the pressure of the global competition. They are in a dilemma between the economical pressure and the ecological consequences of their acting.

Its not only the cutting depth, speed and the frequency of the cuts during the year have an influence on the tragic end of the animals, it’s also the mowing technology itself. Fitting the mowers with conditioners may decrease the haying time of a half to one day, by crushing the stems of the grass plants. However, especially the impeller conditioners are considered as very aggressive as they create a very strong suction. Strategies to survive developed by wild living animals over thousands of years have been abolished during a couple of years. Research carried out by the Swiss Institute for Bee-research has shown that a modern mower put in action during hot weather on grassland in blossom or a field of phacelia can kill from up to 25,000 respectively 90,000 honey bees per hectare (5). This corresponds to a total of three bee colonies, which is the half of our own possession. Sure, there are not all the bees from one colony flying to the same field at the same moment, but aren’t these figures too dramatic to get on with things unscrupulously?

A lot of animals, which we could see in younger years on the fields like the peewit or the skylark, can be found on the list of endangered species in Luxembourg. Exactly herein I personally see a point of departure for giving the horse farming a new push for the 21st century. Horse drawn sickle bar mowers are pulled with a relatively slow speed along the field and are acting within their working width only in a space of about 5 cm (~ 2”), which corresponds to the stroke of the knife. Modern tractor powered or even self-propelled mowers up to 500 hp can run with 17 km/h (~ 10½ mph) and cut not less than 14 m (~ 46 ft) in one pass. There is definitely no chance of escape for the animals. Furthermore horse farmers can’t mow all their fields in one time, contrary to what a lot of the other farmers do. Thus there results a mosaic pattern around the fields which offers enough retreat areas for the wild animals. For the same reason we also prefer to leave sometimes uncut areas along the fields of about 3 m (~ 10 ft).

Sickle bar mowers are no high performance machinery and need a lot of maintenance, compared to disc and drum mowers, but are definitely the better mowers in my opinion. This is not only due to their low impact to the nature, but also due to the quality of their work. The knives cut the grass instead of knocking it off like fast rotating drum and disc mowers. A sharp cut lets the grass grow better again, thus optimizing the next harvest. In Luxembourg you can even get financial support by the Ministry of Environment when participating in a wide-ranging program called “Maintaining the biodiversity,” as this mowing technology is recognized as environmentally friendly. With the recent joint import action, making it possible that two containers arrived last October in Germany, we got yet different parts from the USA for building our own new modern ground driven horse mower. The final product will be similar to our new grass seeder (see fall issue of SFJ), an American European “joint-venture” put together with the most modern technology available or adaptable for horse farming. The first test runs are expected for 2008 and the implement will hopefully be ready for 2009. However, to get the whole haying run well with pure horse power, we need at least four good draft horses, which we simply don’t have at the moment. Good work horses (I don’t mean heavy show or sports horses) are getting real hard to find in Europe.

Making Hay with Horses part 1
Don’t forget, haying is always a hard job for the horses.

A gentle touch

Drying the hay on the field can be done following different approaches. Some one prefer to cure the hay in a swath, which is turned during several days, while others spread and kick the hay with tedders around the whole field area. We prefer the second method and lay the grass, after it has been cut, flat on the ground as wide as possible in order to maximize its exposure to the solar radiation. In Europe the rotary tedders have become the standard equipment for hay manipulation. We also tried to run such an implement with the ground drive pto cart. If it has to be powered only by pure horse power, a team in our case, the limit is definitely a two star tedder. Everything bigger gets so hard to pull that it’s impossible to get enough grip on the traction wheels, even if fitted with sharp steel tread. If you don’t succeed to get the stars rotating constantly and fast enough, the implement simply blocks as too much hay enters between the stars while the whole implement is in forward motion.

Lely, a Dutch manufacturer of farm machinery, has recently presented their newest concept for hay tedders. The roots of this company reach back to Cornelis and Arij van der Lely, who invented and got patented, under the name Acrobat, the first wheel rake during the middle of the last century (6). The Lely brothers never produced these implements, but preferred to sell licensees to other European manufacturers. Today there are still some companies, like Enoagricola Rossi, Sitrex or Tonutti in Italy, who produce a wide range of wheel rakes and even sell them under various colours and names around the world. Last November Lely launched at the Agritechnica Fair, Europe’s biggest show for agricultural machinery in Hannover, a rotary tedder with 16 stars and a working width of more than 20 m (~ 66 ft). With such a gigantic implement, our fields could be tedded within less than a quarter of an hour, on condition they were accessible for such monstrous machinery, in fact they aren’t. For the same work I count half a morning, grooming and harnessing of the horses included. Don’t dream about miracles. We can’t compete against those tractor farmers if only productivity counts. Coming back to the arguments explained here above about the mowers, I’m however convinced that the horse farmers have the better cards in the game for the longer term. Hopefully the politician decision-makers recognize this soon enough.

Rotary tedders are not only the favorite choice of the tractor farmers in Europe, but are also getting popular at draft horse shows, where big engine powered and hydraulically foldable machines are put into action. To see the fast rotating tines kicking the hay on a spectacular way around the demonstration area is always nice for most of the spectators. The border between pure entertainment and the imparting of knowledge and skills is getting perhaps too fluent. An old horse man, who recently stood next to me as spectator on a horse show claimed, when seeing such an implement pulled by a four abreast hitch, “That’s no horse farming, it’s only a big circus act”. Maybe, this statement was a little bit too harsh against the people who spent time and money to organize such events or show up with their horses and equipment. But I agreed with him that on every real horse work or show, the horses deserve better than being reduced to play a bit part.

I personally consider the rotary tedders as simply too aggressive to the hay. Today’s farmers don’t worry a lot about the quality of their forage. But if you take the time to do the job with the horses, you should also take the time to do it the best way possible. Modern tractor powered implements are designed to work at speeds which are four times higher than the horse’s speed at work. Besides the disadvantage of pulling a lot of unnecessary weight of these strongly built machines along the fields, a too aggressive tedding action lets the leaves crumble. If the leaves are kicked off the stems, the hay gets dusty and can cause allergies to the horses. Furthermore, the hay loses most of its nutritive values. Tedding the hay has to be done as often as necessary, but as less as possible. As the hay dries better the two days immediately following the mowing, it can be tedded twice a day during this time. The following days the frequency has to be lowered to once per day assuring that not too many leaves are battered from the stems.

After the bad experiences with the ground drive forecart and tractor implements, I had been forced to over think my whole approach to modern horse farming. During more than one sleepless night I asked myself a lot of questions. Finally I decided to keep on with modern machinery and not reactivate our ancient farm tools. However I decided to look more consequently to the old machinery before making a decision about acquiring new implements. Why not ask a neighbor what he thinks about some or other implement? In a country where horse farming doesn’t play a role anymore since the first half of the last century, it’s getting difficult to trace “true” experts in horse machinery. Also the best photograph in a magazine or leaflet can only be a snapshot and can’t replace the informational value of good literature. Hopefully these lines can contribute their part for a true exchange of views and experiences.

Making Hay with Horses part 1
Aerating the hay with the Pequea fluffer in action.

The first implement which we ever imported from USA was a Pequea #910 fluffer. Before ordering this machine, I first analyzed the old tedders which we have in our collection. One, a German Fahr designed for a team, has 8 forks and a working width of about 3.00 m (~ 10 ft). The other one is a French Excelsior having only 6 forks, giving a working width of about 2.10 m (~ 7 ft), acceptable for a single draft horse as the weight is only about 250 kg (~ 551 lbs). The new Pequea #910 has a working width of 2.75 m (~ 9 ft) and a weight of 385 kg (~ 848 lbs). Even if it’s heavier built as the ancient farm equipment and needs a forecart to be pulled, which adds also some weight to the hitch, I concluded that this implement could be used with a team.

The Pequea fluffer has a similar working principle as the old tedders. Instead of the individual forks, it has a reel consisting of four parallel bars with a total of 64 rubber mounted tines. A unique cam mechanism adjusts the tine angle as the bars turn assuring that the hay is gently lifted and released, rather than the slapping action of the rotary tedders. With eight settings the loft of the hay can be varied through changing the pitch of the tines as they strike the hay at ground level. The rubber mountings of the tines prevent soil or stones being raked into the fodder. Following the operator’s manual, tedding should be done in the opposite direction of which you mowed the field (6). Especially on the first pass, this assures that the whole crop is inverted, laying the leaves inside and the stems, which cure slower, at the outside of the swath.

Making Hay with Horses part 1
Complete lifting of grass asks for a correct setting of the fluffer.

Fluffer, as it’s named by Pequea, is definitely the right name for this implement as it aerates very well the hay, allowing the air to move through the hay for a faster and uniform drying. However, this machine and needs a correct setting, as every implement on the farm, in order to do a perfect job. More throwing up action (notch 5 or 6) is set in the beginning of the hay curing process, during the two days following the mowing, creating a fluffier hay carpet on the ground. Afterwards the action is lowered to a smoother mesh (notch 1 or 2) as the hay gets lighter and high leaf loss has to be avoided. The ground clearance of the tines is set to 2.5 cm (~ 1”), as thick as a thumb, which makes it easy to control on the fields. It’s advisable to control the working height not also at a concrete platform at home, but also on the fields, as the implement sinks down a little bit in the ground due to its own weight. This setting can be varied by fixing the tongue higher or lower on the frame. As the reel is fixed in the frame behind the wheels, the whole implement can tip over when lifting the tongue for hitching to the forecart. This setup however, allows that the tines follow better the ground as they are guided by the implement wheels. In order to get an acceptable tongue weight for the horses, we always hitch the fluffer to our #620 White Horse forecart, which allows shifting the axle.

When tedding heavy crops, especially in the beginning of the curing process, the Pequea tedder tends to wrap some of the plants around the axle at both ends of the reel and even into the cam mechanism. There exist surely nicer occupations during the breaks than cutting off the grass, which can get wrapped sometimes real strong around all the pieces. To put things right, there is no other possibility than adapting the tine angle setting as the speed of the reel can’t be varied. Oh yes, I have to admit that relying on pure ground drive implements has also its downside.

Not only should some water for the horses follow you to the haying field when working under the hot sun rays, but also the grease gun. Greasing is not a job to be done only once at the beginning of the haying season, when pulling the implement out of the barn. It should be repeated as often as necessary, every four hours of use following Pequea’s operator manual. Don’t forget to clean the grease nipples with a rag before applying the grease as it makes no sense to force all the dust and dirt into the bearings. A correct tire pressure of about 2.5 bar (~ 36¼ psi) does the rest for assuring a low draft. The reel is put in rotation via V-belts on each side, which are driven by the 5.90-15 pneumatic traction wheels. Compare once this transmission with the complex power train of a pto forecart powering a rotary tedder and you will see what I mean with efficiency in horse working. The basket turns only at about 75 rpm when the horses are pulling the implement on their normal working speed, which we measured at 4.2 km/h (~ 2.6 mph). This guarantees that all the hay is lifted from the ground, but is only touched gently. Freewheels are mounted on the end of the reel axle and not in the wheel hubs like on most of the ground driven implements. They guarantee that the whole transmission also works fine on the turns and the reel can make some rotations and not stretch the Vbelts, due to its own inertia, after stopping the hitch. With small levers the ratchets can be shut off for transport. To do that, you need to get off the forecart.

The Pequea fluffer is a very simple and efficient machine. Nevertheless, one disadvantage I see is that the self adaptation to the ground over the whole working width isn’t as perfect as on rotary tedders. On most of these implements each rotor is guided individually by a castor wheel and the whole frame can pivot to follow the ground. However, also the rotary tedders don’t succeed to get off all the hay from the ground. As the stars must have a forward inclination, the tines don’t come in perfect contact to the hay in the area between the stars. We compared the working result of the Pequea fluffer to different modern tractor driven rotary tedders and found virtually no difference in their working result. Even if carefully driven, also the rotary tedders tend to make sometimes heaps around the field. The Pequea fluffer also exists in a smaller version, the #710, which may follow the ground better, having only a working width of about 2.10 m (~ 7 ft). However I think that efficiency has to play also a role in horse farming. As none of these two models can be legally moved on Luxembourg’s public roads, I did choose the bigger model. The #910 measures 3.63 m (~ 12 ft) in total width. Another disadvantage of the Pequea fluffer is that it cannot spread out a swath like the rotary tedders can do. Therefore, our machine will undergo this winter, a technical metamorphose and will wake up as a modified implement for the next haying season, allowing us also to perform on this task. More about this subject and our strategies for moving the fluffer on the road can be read in one of the next articles.

Making Hay with Horses part 1

The best one?

Converting grass into hay is quite a simple process. Freshly cut grass has a relatively high content of moisture of about 75 to 85%. The rest is organic material of the plant. In order to get valuable hay, this relation has to be inverted, meaning that the water content has to be reduced to less than 20%, stopping the activity of the micro organisms in the plant. For round and big square bales it’s even advisable to reduce the moisture at 12 to 14%, as these heavier compressed bales can’t breathe completely after being balled.

Our round bales of hay have a diameter of 1.30 m (~ 4¼ ft) and a weight of about 275 kg (~ lbs). In order to get this weight of dry hay, approximately 1.5 tons of water (~ 3.300 lbs) have to be extracted from the initial material. We normally count about 15 round bales per hectare. Therefore, more than 22.5 tons (~ 49.500 lbs) of water has to be transferred into the air for each hectare. Quite a lot and who does offer us all that energy? It’s the one who is always there for us mankind. The sun, which warms up the world every day and which creates the wind by the different heat and pressure zones around the globe. The faster the hay is dried, the better it gets. However, due to climatic conditions, making hay is for us a question of about four to five days. The drying time has to be as short as possible as the lost of nutrients by transpiration increases with each day the hay is lying on the field. A heavy rainfall, which causes additional leaf loss and washes out the nutrients of the plants, especially at the end of the drying process, only worsens the quality of the hay.

As the humidity in the air gets higher during the nights and moistens the ground in the form of dew in the morning, its better to not expose the hay on the whole surface during that time. Therefore we put it on swaths for the night and spread it anew on the following morning as soon as the ground has dried up. Generally the rake is pulled in the same direction in which the field was mowed. However, the first pass has always to be done in the opposite direction in order to get the hay in toward the field and away from the fences and hedges. The corners are raked by hand.

For raking the hay we put our New Holland #285 Rolabar left hand delivery rake into action. It’s the most expensive implement we ever got from USA, but also the best ground driven machine I ever have used. It’s amazing to see how the different farm technologies are sweeping around our globe. If the rotary tedders and rakes, originally European inventions, have gotten popular in the last years in USA, the parallel bar rakes are seeing a renaissance in the same time in Europe. With Camme/Mur, Elho and Repossi, manufacturers from Spain, Finland and Italy, are anew completing their line of haying equipment with parallel bar rakes. Repossi even builds a complete line of equipment, down from their large triple basket hydraulically driven rakes to small ground driven machines, which might be used by horse farmers. The other two manufacturers focus more on the “big” tractor farmers, as they only build twin basket rakes with working width up to 7.5 m (~ 24½ ft). The Camme/Mur has even a rear linkage to couple and power immediately via pto a big square baler behind the rake. As a salesman recently told me when I discussed the pros and cons of their configuration “Nothing for guys running with something below 200 hp”. The conversation found soon its end, as I wasn’t quite sure to count enough heads in our stable.

Why did I choose the New Holland rake? Because of the decades of experience built into this machine with all its small well engineered details, which I didn’t find on the other brands. It has not only the lightest draft of all our equipment, but it can be set to match perfectly with all crops. Even if New Holland and the other brands belonging to CNH are strong players on Europe’s market for farm machinery, this type of implement is not sold anymore in the “old world.” It has been used till the early Seventies, when machines from IHC, John Deere and New Holland were available, either in ground driven or yet pto versions. The rotary rakes seem to have won the race and are sold nowadays in single, double or even quadruple versions with working widths up to 15 m (~ 50 ft) in Europe.

Another category of rakes, the wheel rakes, seems, due to their simple structure asking for no complex power train, to be predestined for horse farmers. But you have to keep in mind that modern development hasn’t passed by to this category of implements. The tines shape and the big diameters of the wheels on modern wheel rakes are designed to work at speeds up to 20 km/h (~ 12½ mph) and managing heavy crops. If these implements are pulled at too low speed with horses, a roping of the swath is inevitable. A fluffy swath is however a must if the windrow has to be easily and completely out swathed the next morning or if well shaped round bales are desired.

Rotary rakes have the reputation for creating a well-formed less roped windrow that allows good air circulation. Tests have however shown that parallel bar rakes are less aggressive as rotary rakes and thus minimize the loss of leaves and nutrients (7). Furthermore they rake less stones into the swath. This has in my mind two different reasons. The parallel bar rakes softly roll the hay sidewise and not sweep it first forward and than backward relative to the central axis of the implement during its way into the swath. Furthermore, it’s a simple law of geometry, that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. This is only given by the basket of the parallel bar rakes, where the distance on which the hay is moved from the outside of the rake into the swath is 25% shorter than on the rotary rake of the same working width, where the track is semicircular. Therefore the hay has not only to be mowed on a longer distance by a rotary rake, but also faster as the velocity of both implements is the same.

To create a loose and fluffy windrow the tines of the New Holland rake can be adjusted facing slightly forward by the moving the pivot ball on the front attachment of the basket in the frame into its highest position. The basket itself is always set levelled, thus parallel to the ground with a ground clearance of 2.5 cm (~ 1”), which can be set by two adjustment cranks on each side of the frame. If the tines touch the ground, there results not only a higher soil contamination of the hay, but the draft needed to pull the rake increases considerably. Following the operator’s manual it might be possible to spread out also a windrow by lifting the left end of the basket as high as possible and setting the right end as low as possible to the ground picking up the windrow with its right side of the rake (8). We have tried this procedure but haven’t been convinced by the results. New Holland prescribes a speed of 6 to 9 km/h (~ 4-6 mph) for doing this, which is not realistic for horses as long as trotting isn’t an option for horse work. Yep, please mark anew one point for the motorized forecart users, who can vary the basket speed via their pto or hydraulic drives.

The New Holland #285 rake has a working width of 2.90 m (~ 9½ ft) and weighs 416 kg (~ 916 lbs). With its overall width of 3.35 m (~ 11 ft), getting it to the fields asks anew for some ideas. An in-line telescopic drive transfers the power from the 5.00-15 traction tread tires to the reel through a gearbox. The reel is put into action by pulling on a small lever in easy reach from the forecart. This lever engages via a steel cable a claw clutch in the gear box. The basket turns with approximately 45 rpm under normal horse working conditions. With its 100 tines on the five bars it rakes real clean. Flexible teeth fastening, the same as on the Pequea fluffer, avoid dragging stones to the ridge. Newer European-made rakes run with six bars and additional hydraulically driven spiral conveyors in front of the basket to cover with extra great amounts of crop, especially if raking straw. For heavy or wet crops the New Holland #285 can be fitted with extra 55 tines as well as with dual traction wheels, but we never needed these options. If well adjusted, it matches with the heaviest crop, even when pulling it straight into a double windrow, resulting from two passes in opposite directions along the field.

The close distance of the offset wheels to the basket lets it follow the tines nicely over the ground contour. The disadvantage of this wheels configuration is that the implement gets hard to pull on turns. This is noticeable when maneuvreing the rake by hand in the barn and when observing the draft in the traces if the implement is turned in working conditions. The Germans Rudolph Ackermann and Georg Lankensperger recognized yet in 1816 that all the wheels of a vehicle have to turn around a common centre (9). They were the first to fit a horse carriage with a stub axle steering. This law is respected when hitching a two wheel cart, where the wheels are always aligned, by the castor front wheel of a three wheeled cart or the automotive type steering of a four wheel cart, but not if pulling this type of implement. Ipso facto on sharp turnings, tempting by the gooseneck shape of the frame, one of the rake tires is forced to skid leaving marks on the ground. Well, there are always two sides to everything in this world.

(1) Ein Kurzporträt der Schweizer Landwirtschaft, LID, 2005
(2) Intergrierte Gru?ndlandbewirtschaftung, FILL, 2001
(3) Gru?nlandtag , ASTA. / LTA, 2003
(4) Stoppt den Mähtod – Praxisratgeber,Deutsche Wildtier Stiftung, 2002
(5) Bienenverluste beim Mähen mit Rotationsmähwerken, FAM/FAT, 2000
(6) In memorian C. Van der Lely, Lely Industries N.V., 2003
(7) Hay tedder models 710 & 910 – owners manual, Pequea Machine Inc., 2000
(8) Equipment to rake and merge hay and forage, K.J. Shinners / R.T. Schuler, 2003
(8) 56 / 258 / 260 operator’s manual, New Holland Inc., 2002
(9) Fahrzeugtechnik – Karosserie- und Fahrzeugbau, Handwerk und Technik, 2005