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Single, Double or No — Which Conditioner Is Right for Your Hay or Livestock Operation?

Recent study shows double roller conditioner can improve efficiency by up to 6 hours in alfalfa.

Maximizing forage quality is a race against the clock. From the moment forage reaches the optimal stage of maturity, through mowing, all the way to bale storage — every step needs to be carefully planned to retain nutritional value.

When it comes to dry down, adding a conditioner to your process can improve efficiency. Roller conditioners crimp forage at set intervals. This varies, depending on make and model. Hesston by Massey Ferguson single conditioners use a factory-standard steel-on-steel system, which crimps every 3 to 4 inches. In addition to single conditioners, we are also the only hay tool manufacturer to produce a double conditioner. The TwinMax conditioner crimps the plant stem every 1.5 to 2 inches, allowing faster dissipation of moisture through the crimped stem for faster dry down — about 6 hours in our recent field study. The TwinMax is available with our 9300 Series RazorBar™ rotary disc headers on the WR9900 self-propelled windrower and our new WR Series windrower.

To determine just how much value conditioning can add to your operation, our agronomists recently conducted a field study. We looked at the effect of double, single and no conditioner on dry-down rate and forage quality on a second cutting alfalfa monoculture in Wisconsin. We used two WR9970 windrowers, one with a 9316D as our double conditioner example and one with a 9316S representing both single and, with the rolls opened up, no conditioner. We operated windrowers at 10 mph and 2100 rpm with a 2-inch cutting height above the soil surface on all treatments.

A note on the weather — the area experienced high humidity during the study, and the threat of rain caused us to end the study at 52 hours despite high moisture levels in some of the forage.

Here’s what we found:

No Conditioner Results

There are plenty of reasons an operation might choose to forgo a roller conditioner. Key among these are acreage and crop type. Roller conditioner options are limited on the compact pull-type mowers favored by smaller operations. Conventional hay and livestock operations can find mowers with single conditioners, like our Hesston by Massey Ferguson 1300 Series disc mower conditioner, but for those looking to only mow a few acres, the price for adding a conditioner might be more than the benefits gained.

Additionally, those producing fine-stem grass forage might find more success with a tine or impeller conditioner. Research has shown tine conditioners help to break up the waxy cuticle in grasses and increase dry-down efficiency by macerating the leaf and stem, allowing moisture to leave the crop sooner. However, in mixed stands or legume stands like alfalfa, these impellers can cause leaf loss in legume forage, resulting in reduced quality. At this time, hay tool manufacturers have not provided a way to easily change out conditioner types, so farmers must make a choice based on their operational goals and crop type.

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