A few years ago, Owen Brown came up empty-handed in his search for an easier way to handle small bales. So he decided to design and build his own labor-saving machine.

The result is a bale accumulator making 21-bale packages that are easy to handle and transport.

"I wasn't interested in being in the hay business unless I could find a mechanical way to handle small bales," says Brown, Pittsfield, IL.

The "Hay Machine" made its public debut at last month's Mid-America Alfalfa Expo in Hastings, NE, where it placed first in the invention contest.

Brown field-tested it on straw, alfalfa and grass hay last year.

Pulled behind the baler, the machine stacks bales three high and seven deep. Two 1/2"-wide metal bands, with rounded edges that won't cut through twine, keep bales in a solid package.

Here's how Brown's machine works: Upon leaving the baler, the first bale is laid flat on the accumulator's elevator. As it approaches the top of the elevator, it's rotated on edge. Next, an apparatus that Brown calls the kicker pushes the bale into position for a vertical plunger. After two more bales have joined it, the plunger moves downward, stacking the three bales on edge.

Next, a horizontal plunger moves the three stacked bales into the main chamber where the strapping is applied. Then six more three-bale sets are moved into the chamber.

When the last set is in place, the 21-bale package is compressed and the strapping is sealed and cut.

As the next package is started, the first one is pushed out of the main chamber and onto a 'floating' floor. That floor is lowered and the package slides off onto the ground, where it can easily be loaded onto a wagon, trailer or truck with a front-end loader.

The bands are pressed 3" deep into the hay so users don't have to worry about bale forks breaking them when they're transported, says Brown.

"It's a durable bundle. The straps stay right where they're placed."

The patent-pending, hydraulically powered machine is designed to handle a bale every six seconds. A computer and sensitive photo eye are programmed to tell the machine which bale number it's handling.

"Bale one has a certain sequence of events, bale two has a different sequence, etc., all the way through bale 21. The operator doesn't need to worry about the operation of the machine - it's totally computerized."

An auxiliary pump powered by the tractor's pto is attached to the baler. The accumulator requires 40 hp in addition to what's needed to run the baler.

Brown plans to begin building and selling accumulators this summer. For more information, contact: Brown Genetic Farm, RR 2, Box 136, Pittsfield, IL 62363. Phone: 217-285-6487.