Greg Brawner was still planting row crops when his family’s 150 acres of alfalfa were ready to harvest this spring. So his son, Gregory, handled the first cutting by himself.
That was possible because Brawner Dairy Farm, Hanover, IN, switched from haylage to baleage this year, and instead of buying a round baler and a wrapper, they chose a baler that does both jobs.
“I mow in the morning, and if the temperature is right I can bale in the evening and then I haul the next day,” says Gregory Brawner.
Round balers with built-in wrappers are popular in Europe, where they’re marketed by most manufacturers, including John Deere and New Holland. Models available in the U.S. include Krone’s CombiPack 1500, Claas’ Rollant Uniwrap 355 and the McHale Fusion 2, sold by Legacy Farm and Lawn, Lockwood, MO.
The Claas and McHale balers have fixed 4 x 4’ bale chambers while the Krone machine is a variable-chamber model. All three have knives that cut forage into shorter lengths for efficient ration mixing.
In each machine, completed twine- or net-wrapped bales transfer automatically to the wrapper, and two satellite stretcher arms wrap plastic around the rotating bale while the next bale is formed in the chamber. A monitor in the tractor cab keeps track of both operations and alerts the operator if problems develop. Some dealers install cameras so operators can watch the wrapping.
Experienced operators can bale and wrap almost as fast as they can bale with single-function balers, company representatives claim. Mark Purinton, owner of Legacy Farm and Lawn, recently baled and wrapped beside a baler that was making high-moisture bales destined for a tube wrapper.
“He was putting out a bale every 50 seconds, and I was matching him tit for tat,” says Purinton.
But learning how to bale and wrap efficiently takes time, Brawner found out in this year’s first cutting.
“There’s a learning curve and the learning curve is still going, but I definitely got over the peak,” he says.
Baler-wrapper combinations usually cost a little more than a baler and wrapper bought separately, but they reduce labor, fuel and equipment costs compared with conventional baleage production. They might improve baleage quality, too, says Jody McRee, eastern region sales manager for Krone North America.
“If you can wrap as soon as you bale, our customers who have done it tell us they seem to get a little better fermentation in that bale,” he says.
While the units are mostly for baleage, there are a number of potential uses, says David Friedersdorf, baler & hay tool unit director for Claas North America. When they make dry hay, some owners use the wrapper as a carrier, hauling two bales at a time off the field, he says.
Poultry producers who want chopped straw have used them, wrapping bales with two layers of plastic for outdoor storage to preserve the bright yellow color. Two layers of plastic, vs. the six to eight layers normally used on baleage, also are enough to protect dry hay stored outdoors, says Friedersdorf.
The baler-wrapper combination is “becoming more and more popular,” he says, while McRee calls it a “limited market.” He says most sales are to producers who haven’t previously made baleage or whose baler and wrapper both need replacing.
“But if their wrapper’s new and their baler’s old, it’s hard for them to justify doing away with the wrapper, because wrappers are getting expensive, too,” says McRee.
When Brawner Dairy Farm bought a Uniwrap 355 and switched to baleage, labor and fuel savings were the main reasons, says Brawner. The organic dairy, with 200 cows and 1,000 acres of crops, is operated almost entirely with family labor. The baler-plus-wrapper lets them harvest with one less tractor and operator than if they had gone with traditional baleage production. Compared with their previous system – haylage stored in upright silos – they’ve eliminated three tractors and operators.
When they made haylage, they had tractors on the chopper and blower, both going full throttle, plus two tractors pulling wagons.
“We still have to haul in the bales. But I guarantee we don’t go through as much fuel hauling 15 tons in at a time with a truck compared with when we hauled 6-8 tons in at a time with a tractor,” says Brawner.
Wrapped bales are stacked separately by field and cutting so they can be assigned by quality to high and low production groups in the herd. That much segregation wasn’t possible when they made haylage, he says.
The first crop was cut at full bloom due to the wet spring. Most of it was baled at 35-45% moisture rather than the 55-65% they had hoped for, largely because they used an older tractor with insufficient hydraulic oil capacity. They switched to a newer tractor for the second cutting, and the baler operated more efficiently.
“Even though our first cutting was a little dry, we still averaged 2% more protein than last year’s best haylage,” says Brawner. “We also were about 30 relative feed value points higher than last year.”