Western hay growers now can have big square bales converted to small ones on their farms without buying expensive processing equipment.

Custom on-farm bale processing is available from Steffen Hay, Inc., Silverton, OR, thanks to a new invention from Stan Steffen, who runs the company with his sons. His Mobile Hay Bale Repackaging Machine turns 3 × 3' or 3 × 4' bales into 50-60 lb, 16 × 11 × 22” bales or 16 × 18 × 22” bales weighing about 90 lbs. Then it packages them in stretch-wrapped blocks, up to 18 bales per block.

The slicing, compressing and packaging equipment all fits on a 53'-long semi trailer and is run by a 300- gpm hydraulic system powered by the semi tractor's 475-hp engine.

Steffen figures his invention will give growers with big bales more marketing flexibility, enabling them to sell a portion of their production as small bales to horse, llama or alpaca customers.

“What we're trying to do is give the smaller producer a leg up on his competition,” he says. “I'm for the little guy, and I see him getting beat all the time because he hasn't gotten big enough to compete. This machine will let him market his product himself.”

He points out that stretch-wrapped blocks of bales measure 36 × 44 × 48” and weigh 1,000-1,500 lbs, a standard package size transported by freight carriers.

“They don't have to be moved by a commercial hay trucker,” he says. “They can be moved by any common carrier.”

Known for designing innovative hay handling and processing equipment, Steffen came up with this idea two years ago while dismantling a bale press built 10 years earlier. Used mostly for export straw, it had processed about two million bales and needed to be replaced. Rather than discard the components, he decided to use some of them to build a new press strictly for domestically marketed hay bales, which require less pressure.

But he's in western Oregon, and most hay growing areas are farther east.

“I thought it would be a good idea to make it portable because there's no one area out there that you can be guaranteed to keep it busy in one spot,” he says.

He and his son Dave, owner of Steffen Systems, Inc., built the 105,000-lb machine mostly with new parts, at a cost of about $500,000.

“We ended up discarding everything or rebuilding it totally,” he says. “But if you had to start from scratch with everything brand new, it would probably run $600,000-700,000.”

The machine operates much like the stationary equipment that preceded it. Bales are sliced into thirds, compressed, tied with two or three twines, sliced again, then bundled and stretch-wrapped. Steffen says it'll process up to 15 tons/hour.

“If you're doing a grass hay, you're down around 10 tons,” he says. “If you're running really nice alfalfa, you can bump it up to about 15. It cycles a little faster if the pressure's lower.”

It's operated by one person, but the grower is expected to place big bales on the machine and remove finished bundles using his own equipment. The grower should be there, anyway, because slicing often reveals bad spots in bales. When bales are custom processed with stationary equipment, the operator has to decide which ones to cull, and the grower sometimes thinks too many were discarded.

“But if it's done on his farm, and he or one of his representatives is right there, there's no question,” says Steffen.

Who will operate the machine is still uncertain. The tentative plan is to train a grower in each area and hire him to take it to other farms. Initially, the cost to growers will be $35-40/ton with a 100-ton minimum amount processed.

He expects to take the machine to growing areas in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and possibly Montana and western Canada. For more information, contact Steffen at 503-873-0900 or stan@steffenhay.com.