The demand for Gary Thering's straw mini-bales continues to grow, and the baler he modified to make them keeps churning them out, one every 10 seconds.
“That baler has probably made 200,000 bales,” says Thering, of Lyndonville, NY. “To me it's remarkable. I'm impressed as the devil with that little thing.”
Originally made to make 14 × 18” bales, the baler now turns out 8 × 10 × 15” packages weighing 4-6 lbs each. Before he began making mini-bales 13 or 14 years ago, Thering gave it a complete makeover, including a new plunger and bale chamber.
“Everything had to be downsized,” he says. “I brought everything down proportionally.”
The knotters are the originals, but he brought them as close together as possible.
The baler is part of a pto-powered homemade concoction that enables him and his family to turn an 800-lb round bale into 135 mini-bales, bagged and labeled, in about 20 minutes. The bale is placed in an old front-unloading forage box, then its apron carries the bale into the beaters, and straw drops onto a conveyor that takes it to the baler.
The small bales retail for up to $6 each as fall holiday decorations. Thering sells them through a broker, and the biggest customer is a Massachusetts-based chain with more than 60 stores in 15 states.
In 2007, when his mini-bale operation was first covered in Hay & Forage Grower, he made 36,000 of them. Volume grew to 75,000 in 2009 and he expects to reach his original goal — 100,000 bales per year — in two or three years.
Steadily increasing sales to the main client have accounted for most of the growth in recent years. That company's buyers started ordering mini-bales four years ago — three semi-trailer loads, 3,360 bales per load.
“The next year they ordered six loads, last year they ordered 10 and this year they ordered 16,” Thering reports.
He won't reveal his selling price, but says, “If you start with a high price, you're not likely to get it. People have to find out if they can sell your product, and the best way to do that is to give them a break up front.”
While selling through a broker has worked satisfactorily, he's ready to do some of the marketing himself. He'll start next winter, when customers will be placing orders for fall 2011 sales.
“At this point, we've got a proven product and we've shown that we can supply it,” he says. “Now we need to attract a little bit more of the money ourselves.”
He believes demand is sufficient to support more mini-bale producers. But he recommends they first identify a market, make bales that fit it and don't expect to sell a lot of them right away. He only sold about 200 the first year and 600 the second.
“Once they started getting out there, it really started to explode. It didn't happen overnight.”
Since the first story appeared, people from all over the U.S. have called wanting to know how he modified the baler. He always offers encouragement, but no details.
“I tell them, just look at a baler and understand it, and then proportionately make one exactly like the one you're looking at,” he says.