Hey hey, a whole new way to hay

WOODSTOCK, Ont. — Standing hay holds maximum protein, but it’s all downhill from there. Protein drops every time hay is handled. Now, a new system claims to maintain 90 percent of original protein.

The Austrian-based Haytec system is common throughout Europe. Using its system, the company says, results in a cost to dry hay of between a half cent and one cent per pound of dry matter. The first Haytec system in Canada is owned and operated by dairy producer Lars Steunebrink of Kirkton, Ont.

“Once it’s dry, there’s no fermentation. On our straight grass, we maintain about 90 to 95 percent of the original protein. Our protein ranges from 14 percent to 23 percent. That’s on straight grass, no alfalfa,” said Steunebrink.

“We’re seeking high quality hay. Don’t let protein get away. That’s what it’s all about. Short field time. The hay stays in the field only one or two days in the windrow so it maintains maximum value.”

Steunebrink was at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock earlier this year to promote the Haytec concept. Steunebrink is the Canadian importer of Haytec and other European haying equipment, including the Austrian-built Strautmann Ambion self-loading pickup forage wagon. The Ambion holds 50 cubic metres of hay before heading to the barn, pulled by a 100 horsepower tractor.

The first steps in the system are not unique. Standing hay gets cut with a mower-conditioner and spread out as wide as possible to dry if the soil is dry. If it’s rained recently and the soil is wet, the windrows are handled right away.

“Then the hay is picked up by our Ambion wagon. This wagon has intake swing tines, not the old rotor style, so it’s very gentle on our grasses. The conveyor floor moves hay to the back. We lose very few leaves and it does not compact the hay. It leaves the hay very loose for better drying.

“The wagon is an important component in the system. Strautmann introduced this Ambion just last year, so it’s new to Canada. It used to make wagons with rotor intakes, but this one has swing tine intakes.

“When we bring it to the barn, we unload on the concrete floor, and the wagon goes back out to the field. At the barn we have a special crane with a big grapple designed just for hay. We pick the hay up and put it in the drying boxes. It sits loose in these wooden boxes. We spread it around with the crane. The air comes through from underneath and dries the hay.”

Ontario dairy producer Lars Steunebrink says a tine pickup is better than the conventional rotor pickup when harvesting grass. | Ron Lyseng photo

In a typical afternoon with good weather, Stenunebrink is able to cut and barn 60 to 80 acres of grass. The grapple crane is necessary to reach and position the loose hay over the air ducts. The piles can be up to 23 feet high, which is the tallest pile that still allows full air movement. The barn is 150 feet by 72 feet. The eavestrough height is 30 feet. All air movement in the system is provided by one large fan.

The Haytec concept is based on a large and complicated dehumidifier system that pumps warm dry air through the loose hay piled in wooden boxes with air ducts below. Steunebrink said the system works best with a specially designed hay barn, although existing structures could be modified to work.

“The boxes are part of the dehumidifier that takes moisture out of the air. It has a double set of registers or heat exchangers. When you remove moisture, you also cool the air. When you do that, you generate heat elsewhere. We capture that heat and pump it back into the air after the moisture is removed.

“This process gives us dry warm air, and that’s what we pump through the hay. During the day we pull fresh air from underneath the roof and blow it through the hay. This air has been heated by the sun.

“You cannot gain protein regardless of what system you employ. Maximum protein is when the hay is still standing in the field. It’s downhill from there. Everything you do in your system will cost you protein. The less handling, the better. The best system is a system that maintains the highest level of protein.”

Although Steunebrink prefers loose hay, he said the Haytec system can be adapted to large round and square bales or small bales. He says a farmer can build the system for less than $1 million, including the special barn, special grapple crane and Ambion pickup wagon.

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