A new option for balers, available in the last few years, has been a bale cutter. This attachment to the front of a baler cuts the hay being baled into shorter lengths. This option is available for either round or 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 additional maintenance. However, recently I have come to believe that use of 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 TMR.
Second, data has shown that cattle have less wastage when being fed bales made with a cutter. The reason is that when the animal takes a bite it pulls out of a bale made with full length hay from a feeder, 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. We can expect 5% to 10% improvements in feed use efficiency when animals are consuming bales made with a cutter compared to bales of full length hay.
Some data from Pennsylvania has shown the beef cattle had slightly higher feed intake when fed bales from a baler with a cutter as compared to those animals fed bales with full length hay. These animals then gained slightly more than animals feed bales of full length hay.
There is no advantage of a bale cutter in hay making or silage fermentation. So the value of bales with cut hay is solely to the person feeding the bales. Thus a farmer feeding the 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 on the baler.
These bale cutters can make hay with a final theoretical cut length can be 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-inch 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 due to better hay and haylage feeding characteristics. The benefits have become more valuable as hay prices have increased.
Undersander is a University of Wisconsin Extension and Research forage agronomist.