Farm Industry News Blog

Round bales at 200 miles per hour

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Iowa farmer Jeff Ryan tackles a major baling project.

If you're the guy running the loader tractor who has to load those assembled bales onto a trailer, do some math. Your bales are about five feet wide and five feet high. The trailer is 8'6" wide and 26' long. Your tractor is closer to 8' wide. If your 5' bales are stacked next to one another, you have to drive into your bale, then back up and move over before you can drive forward to place the bale on the trailer before you do the lather-rinse-repeat spiral of death. If you keep them three feet apart, you can drive into the bale and put it right onto the trailer in one forward motion. Get a trailer driver who can move it ahead the proper amount as you load and that process goes by in a big hurry with no stress. (My Uncle Dean should drive every trailer, if it were up to me. Best guy in that job EVER. When we'd put him in the Ranch Hand, he'd park exactly where he should every time and then he'd back up for the last bale to be placed on the flatbed behind the cab so the loader operator didn't have to do some twelve-point turn to move that far.) With the right guy on the loader and the trailer, we could get a load ready and moving in five minutes or so. The round baler was kicking out a bale in as little as every 63 seconds in some fields, so we needed to keep the whole process moving, literally. This wasn't a handful of loads. This was 100 or 125 loads. Shaving three minutes from the load time adds up. Adding four minutes makes it feel like an eternity, too.   

Then there is the story problem when you get back to the yard. Where do you park all of the bales until they are handed over to The Wrapper, Dr. Hay, for his artistry? A willy-nilly, hodge-podge assembly doesn't work that well when you have a slug of bales to do in short order. A straight line presents another problem. If you have the wrapper at the spot where the bales will be in their final position, you need to figure out how long the line will be when that row is done. Most of our rows were going to be somewhere around 50 to 60 bales long. At 5' per bale, that means it's about 250 or 300 feet from the beginning of the row to the other end. The Wrapper, Dr. Hay, can wrap a bale in about 45 to 60 seconds. So I need to park my bales in such a way that I can get at them easily and transfer them from the stack to the wrapper in less than 45 seconds. If you put 50 bales in a row parallel to where they will be wrapped, and you start at the same end as the wrapper, you'll be hauling a bunch of bales almost the full length of the row (in both directions) before you're done.

Solution? Think about The Bangles. Walk like an Egyptian. Put your bales in a pyramid of sorts! That allows you to store bales going horizontally and vertically, and it still enables you to store a bunch of them close by, ahead of time, without being in the way of the wrapper. The only limits on space are how high you can reach to get bales off the pyramid when it's time to feed the wrapper.

Put that pyramid at the proper angle and you can even simplify the parking and unloading process for your trailer staff as they come into the bale staging area. Parking at an angle to the pile allows the guy in the skid loader to make more general forward and back motions with his machine than if the trailer is perpendicular to the pile.

I learned that when I delivered hay to a horse customer years ago. It was just late enough in the winter that his yard was still soft. My trailer had both his hay and my skid loader on it. (Yes, class, that's called full service. You can bill for that accordingly.) I took his bales off the trailer and made general turns with the skid loader instead of 180 and 360-degree doughnuts like most skid loader operators do. His yard looked untouched when I was done. He said his dad usually left a bunch of ruts and berms all over the place when running the skid loader to unload hay if he wasn't around to do it himself.

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The Farm Industry News Blog features commentary from Willie Vogt, Jodie Wehrspann, Kathy Huting, Lynn Grooms, Daryl Bridenbaugh and Jeff Ryan.

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