How to Cut Grain with a Swather

Harvesting grain with a swather is a process that cuts the grain stalks several inches above the ground, laying the head and stalk as 1 piece on the stubble. Swathing is used on wheat, oats, barley, and rye. Many farmers learn how to cut grain with a swather because it allows for an earlier harvest than with a combine. A swather may be self-propelled, tractor-mounted, or pulled behind a vehicle. Sometimes a double swather is used, which allows a field to be harvested twice as fast by laying down 2 swaths side by side.


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    Determine if a field may be harvested with a swather. Swath harvesting is most effective for high-yielding crops. It is not recommended for crops with row spacing over 10 inches (25.4 cm).
  2. Image titled Cut Grain with a Swather Step 2
    Figure out the best time to cut the grain. Swathing is performed before the grain is ready to be separated from the stalk. This allows the head of the grain to stay intact.
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    Investigate the moisture content of the grain before you cut it. Different grains are swathed at different moisture content levels, and this is determined by the environmental conditions of the growing and harvesting season.
    • In general, grain is ready to be swathed with it is still firm but can be dented with a thumbnail.
    • Wheat and oat moisture content should be about 35%, barley 35 to 40%, and rye up to 45%.
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    Adjust the height of the swather to 1/3 the height of the crop to be swathed. This should be between 4 to 8 inches (10.2 to 20.3 cm) above the ground.
  5. Image titled Cut Grain with a Swather Step 5
    Adjust the swathing speed so that the reel is turning a little faster than the ground speed. A reel moving too fast may knock the heads from the stems and result in grain loss. Contamination of the crop with soil or stubble may occur if the reel is moving too fast.
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    Harvest the crop by swathing across the sowing direction. Larger spaced crops swath well if they are cut at a 45-degree angle to the sowing direction.
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    Pick up swathed grain as soon as possible.


  • It is better to swath earlier than too late or grain loss may occur.


  • Do not try to turn or fluff the swathes if they have been rained on.
  • Do not swath when the ground is wet, as the grain may not dry properly and may sprout.
  • Do not lay the swathes in the same location every year.
  • Do not leave the swathed grain down longer than 10 days. It may sprout if rained upon, stain, or become infested with pests.
  • Do not contaminate the grain with stubble or soil by operating a swather at high speeds.
  • Do not swath when the stalks of the grain are cool or damp. Contamination from stubble may occur when it is torn from the ground and added to the grain.

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Categories: Harvest and Storage | Farming