From now on, the small square balers at Goolsby Farms, Jasper, FL, will only be used on rainy days and in winter.

Instead of round baling just a portion of the hay from their 1,000 acres of Coastal bermudagrass, David Goolsby and sons David Jr. and Clay will harvest it all that way. They’ll store the bales under cover, then use a bale converter to turn them into small squares as orders come in.

The harvesting-speed advantage of round balers is the main reason for the change.

“We’ve got two small square balers, and the most you can bale in a day with one square baler is 15-18 acres,” says Clay Goolsby. “If I’ve got three days before it’s going to rain, I can cut 30 acres and square bale it, or I can cut 150 acres and go out there with two round balers and get it up before it rains.”

They use an Alison Bale Converter, made by Alison Agricultural Equipment, Waynesboro, GA. It unrolls round bales after the net-wrap or twine has been removed, fluffs the hay and feeds it into a small square baler. Similar machines on the market include T’s E-Z Unroller from Simpco, Inc., Cochran, GA, and the Hay Wizard Rebaler System manufactured in Texarkana, TX.

Bale conversion is gaining popularity throughout the East and South, primarily among grass hay and straw producers, says Al Cooper, manufacturer of the Alison Bale Converter. None of his clients use their machines on alfalfa. But he says it can be done without much leaf shatter if bales are placed on the machine so they unroll the same way they were made and its dethatchers, which fluff the hay, aren’t used.

Some of his clients offer custom bale conversion exclusively or in addition to their own work. Rates charged range from $1.25 to $2.25 per small square bale, says Cooper. Marc Stucker, who owns the converter at Goolsby Farms, usually charges $1.25 per bale.

“But I’m selling so much hay right now that I don’t have time to do much for anybody else,” says Stucker, a Mayo, FL, hay dealer serving the Florida horse market.

He buys all the Goolsbys’ hay production, and in the past paid somebody else to convert their round bales into small squares. But last fall he offered to buy a bale converter and put it at their place, suggesting that they no longer make small squares in the field. They were skeptical at first. But his calculations show that baling and storing round bales, then converting them to small bales, is less expensive than baling small squares and moving them into and out of storage.

He bought the $55,000 converter in November, helped the Goolsbys put up a building to house it, and added a prefabricated, controlled-environment operating booth. The unit has a 99-hp diesel engine that powers it and the baler. He now pays the Goolsbys to convert bales at a reduced rate.

“I buy their rolls, they convert them to square bales for me, and I also buy hay from other people and they convert it.”

Stucker claims the machine’s two dethatchers “make the hay come out in a square bale exactly like it was baled in the field.”

He sells small bales, which average 47 lbs, almost exclusively because of their price advantage. Midsized (4 x 4.5’) round bales like the Goolsbys make sell for $45 in winter, $35 in summer, or each bale can be turned into 14 small squares that he currently wholesales for $5-5.25 each.

Converting large (5 x 6’) round bales is even more advantageous. Each bale contains about 22 small squares, and fewer big bales are handled during the conversion process. Fewer big bales also mean fewer cores, which slow conversion because they dethatch more slowly than outer bale parts.

“So my suggestion to anybody who’s going to do it is to make bigger rolls of hay,” says Stucker.

At Goolsby Farms, it takes four people about three hours to turn round bales into a semi load of 628 small square bales. Add 45 minutes of cleanup time after each load, and converting two loads fills an eight-hour day.

Small bales drop onto an elevator that takes them into a van where they’re stacked by hand. A Bale Bandit or Bale Baron could be placed behind the baler to create small stacks for mechanical handling, but the Goolsbys have year-round help to keep busy, and bale conversion helps them distribute their work more evenly throughout the year.

Clay Goolsby hopes the switch to all-round-bale haying will also improve yield and quality. In addition to harvesting more hay without rain damage, completing each cutting faster might enable them to take four annual cuttings instead of three.

“The quicker I can get that grass off when it’s ready, the quicker I’ll have another crop coming,” he says.

For more on the three bale-converter companies, visit alisonfarms.com, www.ezunroller.com and haywizard.com