Haying equipment dilemma: Sickle bar or haybine?

Mr. Moyer,

My name is Michael Borland and I live in Queenstown on Maryland's Eastern shore. I've owned a small farm here for about 12 years and have leased most of it to a commercial grain farmer (big on the Eastern Shore). I've been a user of Rodale's books in all my flower and veggie gardening and have subscribed to New Farm for about 6 months. I've always had a small hay sideline and your essay in last month's [May] newsletter came at a time when I'm investing in equipment to do my own hay - I have more horse customer demand than I ever imagined for my good clover and orchard grass mix. Up to now I've been involved with three neighbors in an equipment pool, but as I approach organic certification, I need my own equipment. I have two general questions and you seem like a fellow that would know.

  1. The advantages/disadvantages of sickle bar mower vs. disc mower? The sickle bar is cheaper with a larger swath width than comparable disc mowers. ( I can't really afford a Haybine/MoCo and the horsepower requirement seems beyond my available 48 HP PTO John Deere.) Do you have any advice? I'm looking at about two cuttings per year and hot sunny weather is usually not a prob (this spring notwithstanding) here on the shore.
  2. Rakes. We've always used the parallel (basket rakes) but they are the most expensive. I'm looking at Rotary or wheel rakes as an alternative especially to help dry-down, since I'm not conditioning. Please share any thoughts/experience you may have on this.

I'm accumulating my basic equip this year with the intention of being independent during next year's season. Any hay making advice would be greatly appreciated!

Mike Borland
Queenstown, MD

Dear Mike,

Thanks for the email. I can’t say I’m an expert at hay making or hay equipment, but I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability.

Sickle bar mower vs. disc: The sickle bar will probably give you a cleaner cut in legume crops or hays with a thick stem. Sickle bar cutters, because of their scissors action will also stimulate re-growth of the hay more quickly. The disc mower will handle dense grass or hay that has gone down better than the sickle bar. So, each has its place.

There is always a trade off between the size of the cutter, the horsepower requirements and the cost. What I usually try and suggest is to size the machinery for your tractor while getting a machine that will perform the best. You mention not getting a mower conditioner. Crimping the hay, especially clover, can make a big difference in the drying time and the quality. If you are cutting mostly grass it isn’t as important. Are you willing to consider quality used equipment? I know it is safer to buy new, but there is a lot of used machinery out there with a lot of life left in it, at substantial savings.

Rakes: I think it pays to get a good rake and a good tedder. The reason being – when it’s time to bale, you need to get it raked and baled. There are many types of rakes, tedders, rake-tedder combinations, etc. I am not in a position to say which is best. My own equipment was all purchased used and is relatively small. I am considering a new tedder to get the hay moved more quickly.

I’d be interested in hearing from you how things are working out. It sounds to me that you are asking the right questions and moving in the right direction. Keep in mind that with hay quality is paramount and anything you can do to insure that the quality you have when you cut the hay is the quality you have when you take it out of the barn is time and money well spent. I look forward to hearing back from you.


The conversation with Mike continues:


Thanks for the advice and sorry for the long time in replying. Having a full time job with the Navy in Wash D.C. and with trying to farm part time--the past month has flashed by. As you have had up in PA, we also had the wettest May/June Combo on record. It has really knocked the big Grain guys here pretty hard. I lost my first cutting of hay due to the nonstop rain. After it seeded out, turned brown and went down for the third time I conducted a mercy bushhogging and now have a pretty good re-growth of my Orchard grass and Timothy.

Since I last wrote you I picked up a used John Deere 338 Baler. 10 years old but well kept. I got it through the local J.D dealer. So at least I’ve got some back up, rather than an AS IS purchase at an auction. I’m now in the final decision stage for the mower and I’m trying to decide between and straight sickle bar or used Haybine. I’m getting prices of between $3000 and 4000 for the sickle bar and there is a minimally used 7ft Haybine at a local dealer (3 years old about 150 acres cut - paint not even worn off) for $7200. As we discussed previously, I do mostly grass hay for my main customer. We are pursuing organic certification and I suppose we could look to the organic beef and dairy feed market if we did some alfalfa/clover. I'm struggling with the old return on investment issue. Will the Haybine get me in enough May and Oct grass hay, along with the potential of legumes to justify the Haybine cost over the next 10-20 years? I know that it is unfair to ask, but what is your gut feel?

I really enjoy the New Farm newsletter and your column. Thanks for the advice and here's to a successful second cutting

Mike Borland

Good morning, Mike.

I’m glad to hear you are making progress with your operation. When it comes to dollars and cents, it’s hard to justify almost any purchase of farm equipment. Paying it off over time with the sale of hay is difficult for me to estimate. All I can tell you is that with time management being an issue (which it must be for you having a full time job off-farm) getting the hay cut and ready for baling in the shortest amount of time is important. Therefore I’m going to suggest a used haybine over the straight sickle bar. More dollars but more sense. Good luck and thanks for the email.


Jeff, thanks for the advice.

The deal is done. I bought the Haybine today. It looks like I'll have my equipment all together for our mid summer cut here in the next couple of weeks. Midsummer grass hay is always of iffy quality here on the shore because of the usual heat and dryness but it looks like a decent late July early Aug haying is upon us this year. We generally have an excellent late hay season in late Sept. early Oct., so I'm hoping to have my rake and tedder by then and maybe get two cutting out of this crazy year. Do you all use rotary rakes or the parallel bar rakes or wheel rakes. I've heard lots of positive talk about the Rotaries, which one doesn't see much of here on the shore. I also hear lots of negatives about the wheel rakes. Let me know if you have any thoughts on this issue as well. I really appreciate the time you've taken in answering these beginner's questions!


Hi Mike.

I’m still using an old side delivery rake. It’s bought and paid for, but it’s slow. I think it’s still hard to beat the action for legume hay. I’m sure there are pluses and minuses to each tool. I don’t have a lot of experience with all the rakes that are out there. Your neighbors will be as useful here as anyone. I’m sure whatever you get it will work fine.

Good Luck and Happy Haying