“My philosophy on making a living in this business is to spend more time in the field and less time moving to and from the field,” says Allen Ersch.
Moving equipment efficiently from field to field is a priority for Ersch, a hay grower and custom harvester from Fredericksburg, TX, because he and his employees do a lot of it. They harvest 1,500 acres of mostly bermudagrass hay over a 30-mile area, and the average field size is 21 acres. In addition, Ersch runs a custom bermudagrass sprigging business with a 15-acre average field size.
“Sometimes we move to two or three fields a day, so there's a lot of windshield time,” he says. “I see time spent moving from field to field as non-productive time, so we try to move quickly and always keep safety at the top of the list.”
He designed and built two low-boy trailers — a gooseneck and a bumper-pull model — that make moving equipment between fields a one-person job.
A tractor is loaded on either trailer, hitched to an implement. With the implement trailing behind, an employee can pull the loaded trailer to the next field and, within minutes, be working it. If the worker needs tools or a ride home at the end of the day, he takes the truck used to pull the trailer.
“We don't have the resources to call someone to come out and pick us up all the time,” says Ersch. “So we like to have a vehicle on site and be self-sufficient.”
His three-point-mounted disc mower, rake and small square baler are attached to tractors when transported. The round baler, though, can't be transported that way. It's hitched to the gooseneck trailer carrying the tractor.
Ersch built a hydraulic hitch at the rear of that trailer to simplify hookup of the round baler and other implements. The hitch extends 10" out from the rear of the trailer and slides about 5" to either side. It's controlled with a switch at the rear of the trailer and powered by a hydraulic pump on the truck.
“This saves a lot of time trying to back the trailer up to the perfect spot for hooking up the implement,” says Ersch.
Implements pulled behind the trailers are always secured with safety chains, and hauled equipment is held in place by a chain and ratchet binder.
“We have tail, turn and stop lights mounted on all our implements and a light socket on the rear of the trailer so we can signal our intentions,” he adds.
For the size of his operation, Ersch's harvesting equipment is small, in large part to facilitate efficient moving. His mowers have 9' cutting widths, for example, and his balers are 9' wide. The Fredericks-burg area is a popular tourist destination, and highway traffic is heavy, especially on weekends.
“It's hard to move equipment, especially when you've got people who aren't used to sharing the road with hay equipment,” says Ersch. “So we've tried to make everything as narrow as we can so we can flow with the traffic.
“I see many operators going bigger with their equipment so they can get the field finished faster, but then end up spending more time moving because they have to road the equipment or require larger trucks to haul the equipment in.”
Much of his custom haying work is done by seasonal employees, mostly college students. In addition to teaching those workers how to operate the equipment, he shows them how to load and unload it, and how to safely transport it.
“We spend a lot of time teaching them safety and how to do it, and we've got a good safety record,” says Ersch. “I can't remember the last time we had a workmen's comp claim, and we have had no vehicle accidents to report.”