Table of Contents:
- Round bales at 200 miles per hour
- Thinking ahead at least one or two steps pays big dividends.
- Thoughtfulness usually pays. Sometimes it pays retail.
Iowa farmer Jeff Ryan tackles a major baling project.
The best part of 2013 is going to be seeing it in the rear-view mirror on the 1st of January 2014. It was not a great year, weather-wise. Memorable, yes, but not in a good way. We started with a winter not short on cold or snow. Then we moved into a spring season that dragged on forever without ever warming up much. That was accompanied by endless deluges of rain. Planting did not move along at anywhere close to a normal pace. This was a historically wet year; the kind that old guys refer to as "one like I've never seen in my ___ years at this."
Our intended acreage did not get planted in a timely fashion. Less than a third of it went into the ground in the normal time frame, and some of that was pushing the calendar pretty hard. Thanks to crop insurance, though, we didn't give up and let the land sit idle. Instead, we seeded a cover crop of annual ryegrass and red clover where corn would normally be planted. That enabled us to maintain soil erosion control with a planted crop while still growing something of potential value. Letting the ground sit idle for a year can sometimes create what is referred to as "fallow syndrome," a situation where yield drops substantially the year after a field doesn't grow anything.
We made a lot of those planting decisions in the first part of June. I spent some time on the phone one afternoon talking to various seed people in Minnesota to see what their inventory was for potential cover crops and what their opinion was of the various crop species and combinations. My goal was to make hay from the Prevented Planting (PP) acres once the deadline of November 1 passed. Federal rules prevent the producer from doing anything with his acres, harvest-wise, until after November 1. Seeing as how we have both equipment and experience making hay, this wasn't going to be a totally new enterprise for us like it would be for some of our strictly-row-crop brethren. So we planted forage crops in a big way. Hundreds of acres of them. That meant potentially hundreds of acres of PP hay to make later on.
There would be one big difference for us, though, compared to our usual hay-making endeavors. That would be the calendar. Any idiot can make hay in July. (In fact, many do!) But when you can't start doing it until November 1, things get different in a hurry. We live far enough north that precipitation can start changing forms in a hurry in November. Sure, you may see a few days in the 60's and 70's, but you shouldn't be surprised by several days in the 10's, 20's and 30's, either. Ever toss some laundry in your dryer and set it on LOW and then been surprised how fast it dried? I didn't think so. Hay doesn't like cool and damp either.
The summer of 2011 presented a weather challenge that made me change my plans for hay that year. We went with balage instead of dry hay and ended up glad that we made that decision. Balage is made just like regular hay, but at a higher moisture level. Dry hay normally needs to be somewhere between 12 and 20% moisture to store well. Balage can be anywhere from 25 to 70% moisture. It needs to be wrapped tightly in a package that keeps air out of the bales. That enables fermentation to take place, just like in a silo if the forage had been chopped as silage instead.
Balage is typically wrapped with white plastic. Lots of white plastic. Here is a link to a video of that process from 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0NoT4J8Ufg
You can make balage with a round baler or a square baler. My preference was for round bales, mainly because we have our own round baler and there was no advantage to hiring someone to make big square bales for me. I got in touch with the guy who had wrapped my balage in 2011 and made sure he was willing to take on my project this fall. We weren't talking about a hundred bales here. It may be closer to a thousand by the time we were done. You don't make that call the day before you're ready to go and expect immediate service!
The Wrapper, Dr. Hay, was willing to take on the challenge. He told me to let him know the day before we'd be ready to wrap and he'd set up a time to be there.
That's when the logistics game got fun. All I had to do was coordinate the guy running the mower to get the crop cut, the guy running the rake to get the windrows raked together to speed the baling process, the guy running the baler to actually make the bales, and then the staff necessary to move all of those freshly-made bales from the field to the yard in 24 hours or less after they were made so that they could be wrapped before spoiling.
Once that hay is cut and then raked and finally baled, the next challenge is to get those bales moved home so that The Wrapper, Dr. Hay, can do his magic. That creates a whole different group of story problems. What we have found to work the best is to put one guy in a loader tractor and have him stage bales as they are made. He drives around the field and picks up bales one at a time with the loader and then places them in a single row with either 11 or 12 bales in it. That row needs to have the bales spaced about three feet apart. Sure, it looks neater and more space-efficient if they're right next to one another, but this is a chess game we're playing.