Mark Spielman creates narrow tunnels in his bale stacks,then fans the hay dry to preserve its green color. His reward: top prices in the horse market.

“If hay gets over 110°, you get discoloration,” says this Twin Valley, MN, grower. His fans keep temperatures down — and the green color.

For the best-quality hay, Spielman bales his alfalfa-grass mixes at 15-25% moisture using a preservative, then removes the excess moisture with aeration.

“The hay may lose 5-10% of its weight by using fans,” he notes. “But it's moisture that probably shouldn't have been in there anyway, and you are retaining the leaves.”

He first experimented with aeration more than 20 years ago. His old bale accumulator stacked bales on their flat sides. He knew they'd dry better turned on edge, but was busy putting up 50,000 bales of hay and straw a year. Rather than flipping bales, he borrowed the 1½- and 3-hp centrifugal aeration fans from his grain bins. “Aired” stacks that were baled greener stayed cooler, while “non-aired” stacks baled drier went through a sweat, he says.

Spielman stacks bales across the back of his hay shed, then leaves a narrow tunnel that starts at one bale high and grows to four bales high. On the front row he drops the tunnel height back down to the size of the fan's transition. He places boards on top to stack bales above and makes sure the fan fits snugly without air leaks.

“You actually pressurize the stacks with air,” he says. “I can feel the air coming through the seams between the bales. It's cool enough to take a nap on top of the stack.”

He runs fans steadily for one to three weeks, depending on hay moisture. In a hay shed with six semi loads of hay stacked 10 bales high, he uses two fans to blow air through two tunnels. Spielman checks the fans after storms and when he is working around the sheds. Electricity costs $20-50/stack.

“If he's got good airflow and keeps the temperature 100° or less, he's doing the right thing,” says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin extension forage agronomist. Getting bales out of the sun to prevent bleaching also helps maintain hay's color. Undersander says a temperature sensor will help make sure bales don't get too hot. He also notes that fan drying without heat should only be done on small square bales.

Spielman pays attention to all the details of raising hay. He seeds 10-12 lbs alfalfa and 3 lbs orchardgrass with a wheat cover crop. He stores bales inside and protects bottom bales with a vapor barrier of 6-ml plastic covered with straw.

Many of his 65- to 75-lb bales are sold to a hay broker for racetrack horses. Because he knows his hay is dry, an average 12% moisture, he also sells it to buyers in Southern states where humidity and mold can be a problem.

Modified Skid Loader Simplifies Bale Stacking

With an industrial forklift mast mounted on the front of a skid loader, Mark Spielman can stack bales to the rafters in his hay sheds without touching the bales. (See stacker in action, page 10.)

“I can stack wheat straw 13 bales high,” says Spielman, Twin Valley, MN, who baled 100 acres of hay and 400 acres of straw in 2007.

He built his first loader in 1989 with an old Bobcat skid loader, a used forklift and a Farmhand bale fork. Spielman dubbed his handy invention “Bale Cat,” a name that stuck even after he built his current loader on a John Deere skid loader in 1994.

“Everybody said it would be too tippy,” he says. “The main secret is to have good counterbalance weights.” He welded brackets behind the wheels to hold eight 90-lb suitcase weights.

Spielman removed booms and cylinders from the front of the loader and attached the forklift mast with four pins. He modified the loader's hydraulic valves to create a non-pressure return so he can lift and lower with the single-acting forklift cylinders. He also adapted its bucket cylinders to tilt the mast.

“The Crown forklift has a side shift, so I can set the bales down, release the bales, side shift, regrab the bales and set them over,” Spielman says.

His Hoelscher bale fork grabs 10 bales at a time.

Because of the extra weight, tires wear out faster, but he says it's worth it. The Bale Cat greatly reduces labor and time stacking bales in sheds and loading them on semis.

“If you took it away I'd never bale another square bale,“ he says.