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Mowing-lucerne-on-JackyBird-Farms-near-Montagu-Nov13.jpg Mowing Lucerne
By: TB   (2013-11-13)

Our old but efficient mower in action harvesting lucerne. It lays down a line of cut material, called a 'windrow', trailing behind it. In a second process, a tractor-drawn 'bruiser' works the windrow and crimps the cut stalks to speed up drying; the aim being to get the mown material off the fields as soon as possible so that watering may re-commence and the crop can re-grow ready for the next mowing about 3-4 weeks later. The lucerne lies for a few days to dry on one side and is then raked over to dry on the other side before being baled.

Baling happens in two different ways. Small rectangular bales about 25-28kg each are typically demanded by users such as horse owners. However, although convenient, these small bales are very labour-intensive when working with larger quantities and so for bigger users, such as dairy farmers, large 250-300kg round bales are made. These are better suited to mechanical handling and quicker to on- and off-load from transports.

It is important that the lucerne is baled dry and if stored well ventilated under cover it remains good and nutritious for at least two years. If it is wet when baled then fermentation can set in with an accompanying mould that is harmful to animals, especially horses. Furthermore the heat generated by the fermentation process has been known to cause such material to spontaneously catch fire with dangerous consequences.

The mower is very maneuverable and, as may be seen in the video, Sybrand can turn it around completely in its own length allowing it to mow awkward areas. It does this by driving forward with one set of wheels while driving backwards with the other set and effectively pivoting, while the single wheel at the back simply casters freely. The cutting bar is set low down at the front and the large rotating frame first pulls the lucerne towards the cutting bar and then, when it is cut, pulls that material further onto two inward-moving canvas belts which constantly shift the material in from either side to deposit out as a 'windrow' through a central gap.

Lucerne, also known as alfalfa, is not a grass but is actually a legume and a member of the pea family. The plant lasts for 6-8 years and, once established under irrigation, can be mown up to 10 times per annum; yielding as much as 2500kg of dry material per hectare per mowing. Best planted in autumn to establish itself over winter, lucerne builds a deep root system and fixes nitrogen in the soil; very useful when rehabilitating neglected or exhausted soils.

On JackyBird Farms we mill a certain proportion of the lucerne up with oats for use as feed for our sheep and horses; while the balance is sold monthly as a cash crop.


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