Economical Round Balers

October 27, 2010 04:52 AM
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Budget tools from the University of Kentucky.

Forage Budget Generator from FAPRI.

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For Michael Northcutt, a cattle producer in Texas, finding a custom hay crew to bale his hay pastures isn’t a good option because there is not enough volume to make it worth the while. As a former custom baler, he knew the cost wouldn’t outweigh the benefit. He decided that it would be better for him to put up his own 700 round bales a year, especially since his 40- acre hay fields are scattered around in different locations.

For Dallas Petty, a cow–calf producer and farmer in northeast Alabama, baling his own hay allows him to control the quality of hay he feeds to his cattle. He also has a market that allows him to sell the extra hay he produces.

Having a reliable yet economical hay baler is essential for both of these farmers. Since they are not running through a large volume of hay each year, they chose to purchase one of the newer baler models that require less horsepower to run while still producing large, high-density round bales.

New versus used. As you put your hay equipment away this fall, you may have been thinking about replacing a worn-out baler but not wanting to spend more than you have to, especially if you’re just putting up hay for your own use.

You might think the most economical option would be to buy a late-model used baler. However, manufacturers now provide economically priced balers that work well for those who don’t put up hay full-time. These new models open up some options, since some prefer having the one-year warranty attached to new equipment.

Manufacturers like Vermeer, Case IH, New Holland and John Deere have introduced balers designed for moderate use, all at different price points.

Randy Rusk, who runs 500 head of cows and about 700 yearlings a year near Pueblo, Colo., puts up about 1,000 acres of hay each summer. He purchased a new baler recently to replace an older one when he couldn’t get the net wrap option for it. He chose a new Vermeer 655 Rancher baler with the net wrap option, which he says speeds up baling time 20% to 30%.

“All equipment wears out, but I got this one with the idea that it’ll last hopefully 10 years. We’ve had a few glitches, but the warranty has covered repairs.” The benefit of the new baler is that there is less downtime, which is critical since there is a very narrow window for Rusk to bale hay.

Right now, he uses a 110-hp tractor with it, but the baler doesn’t require that much horsepower—the minimum requirement is 50 hp. With the lower-horsepower option, newer balers are more likely to match up to other tractors that you already use.

Rusk says the newer machines are just right for his operation—they are simpler to run and have bigger bearings. In addition, they are less expensive. Another critical factor in his decision is having a dealer nearby with good customer service.

Hay quality. Petty, who puts up about 1,000 to 1,100 acres of hay each year, says modernized balers help him get hay baled more efficiently. They are “heavier-duty, economical balers for smaller operators,” he says.

He feeds much of his own hay, but also bales hay. It’s important for producers to understand what goes into producing a quality bale of hay, he says.

“Put a pencil to what it cost to put up hay and consider quality,” he says. “By the time you look at the fertilizer, equipment and labor required to put up hay, you get a better idea of how the price you pay for hay is determined. Then you can decide if it’s more economical to buy hay or bale your own.” BT

Figure True Costs to Determine Your Options

The equipment used to cut and bale hay needs to be included in your overall feed cost analysis to get a true picture of the costs and the benefits of hay production.

While there are many ways to do an overall enterprise budget, Kenny Burdine, University of Kentucky livestock marketing specialist, likes to start with forage production, since it is probably the biggest expense for most cow–calf producers.

He says producers should allocate their fertilizer and lime between hay and pastureland to separate grazing costs from hay production costs. He urges producers not to forget fuel, oil, repairs and labor for these forage programs. You should “also charge depreciation and interest on forage equipment to get an accurate assessment of what your total feed costs truly are,” Burdine says.

The University of Kentucky’s agricultural economics department has budgeting tools that may make this easier.

Know what you need:

  • Twine versus net wrap
  • Horsepower requirements of new or used hay equipment versus what you already have available
  • Density of bales
  • Size of bales


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