Tim Gogerty often bales alfalfa-orchardgrass hay and wheat straw when the temperature hovers near zero.

Gogerty, of Hubbard, IA, hires a customer operator to mow and bale 130 acres of forages in round bales in summer and early fall. During winter evenings and weekends, he operates his E-Z Unroller to unroll the bales and fluff the forage before repackaging it in small bales.

He bought the unroller from Simpco, Inc., Cochran, GA, in late 2007 to help maintain his loyal customer base — local horse boarders who want high-quality hay in 50-lb bales.

“Depending on the weather, it used to be a big struggle to get the small bales put up in a timely manner, and it was hard to find enough local kids to help,” says Gogerty, who works full time at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames.

To combat those challenges, he has his forages baled quickly in large rounds, then converts them to more-profitable packages. In his area, high-quality hay in round bales fetches about $90/ton from cattle producers, but horse boarders will pay nearly double that if it's in small bales.

He also buys round bales of wheat straw and converts them to small bales that are sold at the farm or to feed stores.

“Farmers buy them for their sheep or other small animals,” says Gogerty. “Homeowners use them early in the fall for mulching their gardens and builders use them to cover concrete.”

The Iowan began offering custom unrolling and rebaling services late last year. To get started, he advertised in local shoppers and the Des Moines Register.

“I picked up four customers right away and good word-of-mouth is starting to spread.”

Depending on the type of forage, he charges $1-1.25 per small bale. He can process three 5 × 6' round bales per hour, making about 90 small bales.

The unroller, which is housed in a 55 × 80' hoop building, has four conveyor units that unroll the round bales, followed by a dethatcher that fluffs the forage before sending it down the line to the square baler. The controls are housed in a small room next to the unroller.

The operation runs best with three people, says Gogerty, who counts on his wife, two sons and daughter-in-law for help. One person uses a front-end loader to set the round bales on the first conveyor, another person runs the controls and a third stacks the final product on a truck or semi trailer.

To minimize waste, he connected two small elevators to the unroller to catch any loose forage. “My customers appreciate that. They're getting back almost the same amount of forage that they bring in.”

The unrolling and rebaling process doesn't diminish the quality of his alfalfa-orchardgrass hay, he says.

“I can barely tell the difference between what's come right off the field and what's been unrolled and rebaled.”

He's also used the machine on small quantities of straight alfalfa. “Leaf loss is minimized if I use an inoculant and put the alfalfa up with a little more moisture — upwards of 20% or so,” says Gogerty.