A couple of years ago, Junior Manthe wanted to save himself and his customers time, so he bought a baler that slices hay.
Manthe, who raises dairy heifers near De Forest, WI, custom swaths and bales for a dozen or so clients, a handful of them dairy producers.
“I had customers asking for cut hay,” he says. “And I have a vertical mixer. Using hay that's already been cut decreases my mixing and feeding time.”
Manthe estimates that it takes 12-14 minutes for his mixer to process an uncut bale vs. only 6 minutes for a bale of sliced hay.
He started custom harvesting 25 years ago, first making round bales, then switching to large square bales 10 years ago. For the past two years, he's offered the slicing option for a $1/bale premium. About half his clients ask for it.
The premium is close to being a wash once the added expenses of using the crop-cutting option on his Case IH LBX 331 baler are factored in.
“I use more fuel slicing, but the density of the bale is greater, too.”
Manthe estimates that bales of sliced hay weigh 10% more than uncut bales.
When feeding his own hay, Manthe found that his mixer processes sliced bales faster, offsetting the higher baling costs.
“The big advantage with balers that slice is you save a step,” says University of Wisconsin ag engineer Kevin Shinners. You process the hay while you bale it.
“Once the material exits the pickup, it's collected by a rotor that sweeps the material past a series of stationary knives,” he says. “The hay is then placed in the bale chamber.”
Shinners adds that “the number of knives can be changed quite easily, which will determine the length of the cut.” Removing knives lengthens the cut and the outside two knives are sometimes removed to improve bale handling.
He and his colleagues are conducting a feeding trial with dairy heifers to see how different types of bale processing, like slicing and chopping, affect sorting at the bunk. Results are expected later this year.
Balers that slice aren't for everyone, though. George Morrill of Morrill Hay Co., Larned, KS, tried offering the service for a couple of years.
“It had some disadvantages,” says Morrill, who custom harvests 8,000 acres of hay and also grows hay for sale to feedlots. “We tried to stack short-cut hay and the bales didn't stack as well.”
Moisture content was more critical than with traditional bales, too. If hay was baled with slightly too much moisture, it would heat. “We even had hay catch fire,” he says.
Morrill also saw loss during storage when sides of bales flaked off.
“Half of our customers liked the product. But it didn't work in the mixers of the other half because the cut hay was too long. Their mixers were made for ground hay.”
His custom baling clients paid a $4/bale premium, and he charged $5-7/ton when selling cut bales. But when he subtracted the higher initial investment and fuel costs, plus losses from fires and flaking, the economics weren't good. He recently sold two of his three balers that slice, and plans to trade the other one for a traditional machine.