Choose the Right Hay Baler

When you choose the right hay baler for your needs, you save bales of money.

  • A John Deere tractor makes hay with a small-square hay baler.
    Courtesy John Deere
  • The CAEB mini round baler makes a nice round bale of hay.
    Photo courtesy CAEB
  • The CAEB mini round baler being used by a farmer to make small round bales of hay.
    Photo courtesy CAEB
  • The SFI MRB 855 is a good fit for subcompact tractors.
    Photo courtesy Small Farm Innovations
  • The Vermeer Rebel 5420 is suitable for use with larger compact and most utility tractors.
    Photo courtesy Vermeer
  • The Abbriata M60 mini-square baler works well with compact and subcompact tractors.
    Photo courtesy Abbriata
  • The Abbriata M50 mini-round baler attached to a tractor produces small round bales of hay.
    Photo courtesy Abbriata

Folks who make hay on a small scale often simply stack the dried forage — usually out of the elements — but piles of loose hay take up a lot of space and are sometimes difficult to feed from without the help of a hay knife and some serious labor. One solution to the issues associated with handling loose hay is to convert the hay into neat and tidy packages called bales. If you have priced new hay balers recently, though, you might be stunned by the size of the investment. However, if you only need relatively few bales, you can get the job done with a small to midsized investment, depending on how many bales you will make in a year and how many acres of hay you intend to put up.

People power

One of the easiest ways to get into baling on a micro scale is to build yourself a stout wooden box, roughly the dimensions of the bales you desire. You can simply position a pair of wires or twines lengthwise in the box, pitch hay into it, press it down with your hands and feet, and tie the bundles together with the twine or wire. This will get you a fairly loose bale, but one that is stackable nonetheless. This process will take several minutes per bale, so if you have hundreds to do, it might not be the best approach. Extending this model one step further would be to add a plunger to the box baler with a sufficiently long handle to help compress the hay, which would create a tighter, heavier and better-shaped bale that would stack more readily. If you build it with a door, you can also more easily remove the bale.

At the time of this writing, I am aware that DR Power is in the prototype stage on a potential production model manual baler that is relatively light, easy to move around, and that allows you to lock the plunger in the compressed mode to facilitate tying a tight bale. If your hay is windrowed and ready, you might be able to make about eight or more 60-pound bales an hour with this tool. Not too bad, if your entire year’s worth of hay amounts to 100 small square bales.

These completely manual options will help you get the baling accomplished for very little investment in equipment — from virtually nothing to a few hundred dollars. You can scythe your standing forage, rake it by hand with a homemade wooden hay rake, and then bale it with your manual baler. The tradeoffs with this approach are time and physical labor. And those tradeoffs limit the total hay acreage you can readily put up in a season. However, if you have need for an acre or less of baled hay to see your sheep through the winter, this is a productive and satisfying way to get it done. Many folks simply choose to purchase bales when their need is so small — I say if you have the land already, why not put it to good use and get in shape at the same time.

Power baling

Assuming you already have a compact or subcompact tractor to help with the hay-making chores around your place, you can consider a mini mechanized baler since you already own the power unit. Using powered hay-making tools will significantly increase the hay acreage you can easily handle — and it will allow you to make more hay faster, which can matter if you live in a region where it is difficult to get several good drying days in a row. Mechanized baling often allows you to get the hay in before that next storm system blows through, dropping an inch of rain along the way. This approach will generally cost you a minimum of about $8,000 for a new, small-scale hay baler to something less than $20,000 depending on the type. Used options would come in substantially lower (see "New or Used" below).

At the micro end of the mechanized baling scale, you have the CAEB mini round hay baler that runs as an attachment on the BCS and Grillo two-wheeled tractors (8- to 11-PTO horsepower). This is a high-quality implement that kicks out 40- to 60-pound round bales that are up to 21 inches in diameter by 23 inches long. These little round bales won’t stack quite as neatly as small square bales, but the baler is very capable and far less expensive than the mini small-square balers, and you don’t need a larger four-wheeled tractor to operate it.

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