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Modern mechanized hay production today is usually performed by a number of machines. While small operations use a tractor to pull various implements for mowing and raking, larger operations use specialized machines such as a mower or a swather, which are designed to cut the hay and arrange it into a windrow in one step. Balers are usually pulled by a tractor, with larger balers requiring more powerful tractors.
Mobile balers, machines which gather and bale hay in one process, were first developed around 1940. The first balers produced rectangular bales small enough for a person to lift, usually between 70 and 100 pounds (32 and 45 kg) each. The size and shape made it possible for people to pick bales up, stack them on a vehicle for transport to a storage area, then build a haystack by hand. However, to save labor and increase safety, loaders and stackers were also developed to mechanise the transport of small bales from the field to the haystack. Later in the 20th century, balers were developed capable of producing large bales that weigh up to 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg).
Conditioning of hay has become popular. The basic idea is that it decreases drying time, particularly in humid climates or if rain interferes with haying. Usually, a salt solution is sprayed over the top of the hay (generally alfalfa) that helps to dry the hay. Conditioning can also refer to the rollers inside a swather that crimps the alfalfa to help squeeze out the moisture.
Many farmers, particularly those who feed large herds, have moved to balers which produce much larger bales, maximizing the amount of hay which is protected from the elements. Large bales come in two types, round and square. "Large Square" bales, which can weigh up to 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb), can be stacked and are easier to transport on trucks. Round bales, which typically weigh 300 to 400 kilograms (660�880 lb), are more moisture-resistant, and pack the hay more densely (especially at the center). Round bales are quickly fed with the use of mechanized equipment.
The ratio of volume to surface area makes it possible for many dry-area farmers to leave large bales outside until they are consumed. Wet-area farmers and those in climates with heavy snowfall either stack round bales under a shed or tarp, but have also developed a light but durable plastic wrap that partially encloses bales left outside. The wrap repels moisture, but leaves the ends of the bale exposed so that the hay itself can "breathe" and does not begin to ferment. However, when possible to store round bales under a shed, they last longer and less hay is lost to rot and moisture.
April 1st, 2014
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