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agricultural equipment for harvesting hay

Steel vs. Rubber Hay Rollers: A Comprehensive Comparison

April 17, 2023


Controlling humidity and moisture during the harvest stage of maturity is the most critical factor under a producer’s control that affects hay quality. Conditioning rollers, which greatly aid crop drying for hay producers, solve this problem.

When you employ a conditioner, the hay drying rate is much faster because it is designed to crack, strip, or split stems, effectively reducing field curing times. Keep reading to learn about the differences associated with steel vs. rubber hay rollers. If you want more information on hay conditioning rollers for your harvesting equipment, contact B&D Rollers to get The Crusher for faster forage drying times. 

Importance of Hay Conditioning

Fast drying is essential for high-quality forage production. Conditioning reduces field curing and dry-down time, and you can consistently produce softer and more palatable hay with the right equipment. Flattening and conditioning the entire stalks with minimal leaf loss also aid in nutrient retention in the plant, resulting in a higher Relative Feed Value (RFV).

Rapid drying is also vital for hay production as it reduces microbial growth, increasing green color and digestibility—the easier for animals to digest hay, the more nutrients are available to them. Progressive hay farms now recognize that the best way to maintain hay quality is to use high-productivity harvesting equipment. This way, they can cut haylage quickly and move on to the next growing cycle.


Steel vs. Rubber Hay Rollers: How Do They Compare Performance-Wise?

types of conditioners

Flail, Rubber, and Steel Rollers: A Brief Overview

Flails, rubber rollers, and steel rollers are the three types of conditioners available on the market. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but it all boils down to the type of hay crop you’re harvesting. Flail conditioners should only be used with grass, where you only want to scrub the wax off the stem and don’t care what happens to the leaves.

Crimping Differences: Steel vs. Rubber Rollers

The difference between rubber and steel rollers lies in their crimping method for the stem. Steel rollers (chevron) conditioner rolls break the stem at specific points while causing minimal damage to the leaves. In contrast, rubber rollers handle crops more gently, crimping the stem without crushing the entire plant. This results in less leaf loss, particularly in crops like alfalfa. The Crusher rubber rolls, however, compress and crack the stem entirely from top to bottom.

Conditioning with steel rollers is preferred for summer crops such as sorghum Sudan grass or abrasive crops like straw. This is because steel provides a more aggressive crimp on the crop and thus works well in heavy, wet crops like alfalfa grass mixes. They are also useful for drying crops with stiff or thick stems by creating uniform crimps without bruising the leaves. Crusher rubber rolls are also useful in these crops.

Rubber rolls condition hay by crimping and crushing it; they’re incredibly effective on finer-stemmed grass or alfalfa. The rubber rolls are interlocked with different patterns and synchronized to provide uniform conditioning across the width of the rolls.


Steel vs. Rubber Hay Rollers: Durability and Upkeep

Steel vs. Rubber Hay Rollers: Durability and Upkeep

As for maintenance needs and durability, steel rolls are considered sturdy; however, rocks frequently bend steel rollers. Steel rollers are also quite loud and often experience wrapping issues, especially with wet hay. Rubber hay conditioning rollers excel because of their high-quality core construction in rubber composition and consistent linear pressure.

Rubber hay conditioning rollers are also resistant to rocks, stones, and debris and can be fully reconditioned. Balancing the rolls allows for a smooth, high-speed operation and faster drying to produce more palatable, softer grass hay.

It is important to note that the durability of rubber hay rollers can vary depending on the quality of the rubber and the specific design. Therefore, it is crucial to consider these factors when selecting a rubber roller for your equipment. Additionally, proper storage and maintenance are essential for preserving the lifespan of rubber rollers, thereby minimizing the impact of weather.


What to Look For in Hay Roller Conditioning Equipment

Crop Type Match

Now that you understand the difference between steel vs. rubber hay rollers, deciding on the right conditioner deserves careful consideration. The type of crop to be mowed, the aggressiveness of the forage to be conditioned, and equipment power requirements are critical factors to consider when purchasing.


Take into account factors such as the desired working width and hour per High Availability (HA) performance when choosing steel or rubber conditioning rollers. A wider working width can cover more ground in a single pass, increasing efficiency and reducing time spent in the field. 

At the same time, a higher HA performance indicates that the roller can handle more work hours without compromising its performance or reliability. This can be especially important during tight harvest windows when rapid drying and conditioning are essential for hay quality.


Equipment maintenance is another essential factor to consider. Although steel rollers are generally more durable and require less frequent maintenance, regular inspection of the steel rollers for signs of wear, misalignment, adequate lubrication, and damage caused by rocks, stones, or debris is needed. 

Rubber rollers are resilient to rocks, stones, and debris, but improper storage can cause the rubber to deteriorate. However, in most cases, rubber rollers can be fully reconditioned, extending their usable lifespan.


There are several safety factors to evaluate when comparing steel vs. rubber hay rollers. Rubber rollers:

  • Generally handle wet hay better than steel rollers, resulting in fewer wrapping issues and reducing the risk of equipment damage and operator injury while attempting to remove wrapped hay
  • tend to be more resistant to rocks, stones, and debris, lowering the likelihood of damage and potential hazards during operation
  • are generally more gentle on the crop than steel rollers, which can result in less leaf loss and fewer instances of plant material being ejected during operation, thus minimizing the risk of injury to operators or bystanders
  • typically produce less noise than steel rollers, which can contribute to a safer and more comfortable working environment for operators


The Ultimate Hay Conditioning Rollers

Roller conditioning is widely recognized as an effective approach for optimizing the cultivation of delicate forage crops. In comparing steel and rubber hay rollers, rubber rollers have distinct advantages. The Crusher from B&D Rollers is versatile, working with all forage types while effectively flattening the stem, minimizing leaf loss, and preserving nutrients in the plant for a higher RFV.

Furthermore, it is fully compatible with all major brand-name conditioner machines without requiring modifications. The hay conditioner rollers offer faster dry-down time, repairable rubber compound material, a thicker rubber wall for softer hay, and over 1200 hours of operation per year per set.

Your search for the ideal hay conditioning rollers can conclude here. Contact us, and we will be glad to assist you in acquiring The Crusher for your operation.

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