Small bales made by a first-of-its-kind baler enabled Lynn Fischer to satisfy horse-hay clients asking for smaller packages. J.J. Granstrom wasn't able to crack his local horse market with the bales, but found an unexpected market in small dairy operators who feed hay by hand.

Fischer and Granstrom are among the first U.S. owners of Krone's 1270 Big Pack baler with the MultiBale feature. Introduced last year, the computerized baler makes single big bales or up to nine small bales within each big one. Big bales are 2.3' high, 4' wide and up to 9' long. Small bales are 4' long and vary in width from 1' to 4.4', depending on the number in each big bale.

Fischer grows 1,300 acres of alfalfa near Wagner, SD, shipping it to several states farther south. A horse breeder himself, he sells hay mainly to larger horse farms and stables. Most feed big square bales, but some would rather buy small ones. So Fischer paid $108,000 for the MultiBale baler last spring, hoping to meet their needs without slowing his harvest.

He baled about 1,200 tons of alfalfa with it, always making nine small bales per big bale, and usually running two other big balers in the field at the same time. He says the small bales have good color and leaf retention, and they hold together well, even though the two strings run across them instead of around the ends.

“As long as they're put up properly, they really work great,” he says.

To him, that means making sure the hay is dry, then baling at night or early morning with dew. It's the same procedure he's used for years when making big bales.

“If it's nice, dry hay, we'll catch a dew and bale it between 15 and 17% moisture, and I guarantee there will be no spoilage,” says Fischer. “That's why we run three balers: Timing is everything in this business.”

Customers who tried the small bales like them; he was sold out by Oct. 1. But some wish the bales were lighter. That problem would be solved, says Fischer, if the baler could put more than nine small bales in each big one.

“We've begged our field rep to move that to 11 or something, which would really help on weight,” he says.

Granstrom and his dad, John, from Holstein, NE, can make only eight bales per package, but plan to get the free software upgrade that lets them make nine. Presently, their small alfalfa bales weigh 160-170 lbs each.

The Granstroms focus their hay business on 4 × 4' bales for the dairy market. They bought the MultiBale baler in part because they wanted to experiment with the horse market and, like Fischer, didn't have a small baler.

Local horse owners are accustomed to buying two-tie small bales that can be carried by hand. The Granstroms thought they could tap into that market with their 160- to 170-lb bales, especially in a dry year when lighter bales were hard to find.

“We thought it might be easier and it's not,” says Granstrom. “People want to feed what they're accustomed to feeding.”

They found good acceptance farther west, where horse owners traditionally feed heavier, three-tie bales. And Amish and Mennonite dairymen really like them, he says. They move the bales with carts or wheelbarrows and feed the hay a flake at a time. The Granstroms' best 2006 hay — fifth-cutting alfalfa that tested 250 RFV — was shipped to Pennsylvania, where hunters used the small bales as deer bait.

They baled 6,000 big bales of alfalfa and wheat straw with the new machine, utilizing the MultiBale feature on only about 20% of them.

“We usually made just one big bale, just solely because of the affordability of the freight,” Granstrom reports.

The dimensions of the big bales were, in fact, the main reason they bought the baler. They grow 1,000 acres of wheat and haul the straw long distances. They can get 49 to 51 bales — about 21 tons — on their 53'-long step-deck trailers.

“Because they're 27” tall, we can load them four high,” he says. “With 4 × 4 × 8' bales, the most we can get on a load is 16 tons. And with 3 × 4 × 8' bales, we're limited to loading them just three high.”

He and Fischer both say the baler matches the baling capacity of their other big balers, and they've been impressed with its reliability.

“We've had a few knotter problems, which you'd expect, but nothing we couldn't fix,” says Granstrom. “And it's got a cam-less pickup, which is the slickest thing since pockets on a shirt.”

He switches from single big bales to eight-bale packages by pushing two buttons in the tractor cab.

“You don't even have to stop,” he says. “It's slick.”

Fischer adds that making bales within bales eats up a lot of twine, but his new baler was flawless last summer. “It's meticulous manufacturing at its best,” he says.

The balers are “darn-near bullet-proof,” concurs C.W. Doss, Krone's commercial product sales manager. “We haven't had enough trouble with those things to say scat over.”

Doss says less than 10 MultiBale balers were available in North America the first year, and the company sold them all. About 20 or so will be available in 2007.

The maximum number of small bales per big bale probably won't go higher than nine. Those bales are only 1' wide. Bales much narrower than that wouldn't hold together well, says Doss.