Hay Bale Handling for Consumers. How big of a tractor? What spear is best?

Neil from Messicks here today to have a quick conversation with you about hay bales, and specifically the weights of bales and the efficient ways in order to handle them. Can really have this conversation with two different groups of people, both the producers of hay bales and the consumers of them. This video is really going to be geared towards the consumer of the bale itself, so I'm going to walk through here with you a little bit and tell you how to handle these things around your farm. 

 

There are three different packages of bales, small squares, rounds and larges. They generally are packaged differently by different machinery for different reasons. Most of those reasons coming down to handling. A larger bale with more weight and it is simply more efficient to move around. 

 

By and large, when you're buying hay, for the most part, the heavier the bale is, the less money that you're paying for that bale because of that efficiency of being able to move it around. Small bales are generally more expensive than what larger bales are, but smaller bales are also a lot easier to handle. 

 

We've talked about that handling side, by and large, we do a really poor job as a group of people of estimating weights of things. You can say that about anything, a bucket of dirt, a bucket of stone, and we're terrible with it when it comes to bales. You're going to go think through your bales and understand the amount of material, the kind of material, the crop that's going into it, the density of that bale, all can drive the weight of a bale. For that reason you can see some really dramatic differences in the weight of different sizes and types of bales. 

 

I'm standing here at the business end of a small square baler. Small square bales are going to vary in size depending on the size of the bale chamber and the length of the bale that the farmer chooses to make. This portion back here is called a Kicker. You've probably seen these things in action before. Once it makes the bale, it goes up into this throwing mechanism which will throw the bale up and into a wagon that's pulled behind it. 

 

Because of the smaller size of these bales are generally handled by hand and not by machinery. You certainly can spear these things to carry them around, but a lot of guys just choose to grab the strings and pull and carry them. Weight-wise, most of your small squares are going to come in the 40 to 75 pound range. Again, depending on the density of that bale and the type of material that was baled up. 

 

Just like we can vary the size or the length of a bale in a small square baler, we can do the same thing with a round baler as well. This New Holland RB450 here is the most popular size of bale in a four by five, but you can actually find larger bales as well. 

 

This bigger RB560 over here is a five by six that makes a much larger bale with a lot more material in it. This size bale is not very common, especially in areas where we're transporting bales because two of these things across a trailer, it's going to make you a wide load. By and large, a vast majority of people opt for the smaller four by five balers. 

 

Weight-wise, again, we're going to see a lot of variation depending on the density of the bale, the crop that's baled up and the the width of the bale, you can bale these things up into different radiuses as you're working. The weights of those bales can vary anywhere between about 450 to 500 pounds for the lightest, smallest ones, up to about 1,200 pounds for the biggest. 

 

Again, when we start talking through tracking requirements in order to move these bales around, this can get really challenging because just knowing that you're buying a round bale, it really is going to tell you very little about how much truck you actually need in order to move it. 

 

At the most high end of the baling market is big balers and big balers make some big bales. These are going to come in a number of different sizes in our area, three by three and three by four are the most popular. We sell about 50/50 each. There's also some really large four by four balers available as well. 

 

Big bales, just like we've talked with, these other ones can really vary a lot in weight depending on the crop that's going into it and the density of it. You can get some small three by three bales that come in and that 800-900 pound range, but some of our large chrome balers with high density press and packer cutters in them, can start to make some bales that are going to approach nearly 2,000 pounds. 

 

Big balers are really cool because this is where a lot of the technology is at in the baler market. You can do a lot of really advanced things that big balers as far as scales and counters, and field tagging system, and GPS markers with these high production high volume machines. 

 

Once you've found a producer to buy bales from, you're going to need some kind of way to handle them. Generally, that's done with some kind of either grabber or spear on the front of your tractor. Now, hopefully, your machine has a skid steer quick coupler. If it does, you're going to be able to pin one of these things on very easily and go. 

 

It's important when you buy one of these that you're buying the right type for the style of bale that you're going to be manipulating. This style right here is going to have either two or three long spears across the bottom for handling those square bales. The spear is going to go the whole way up into the bale and hopefully support the thing across its width. 

 

If you're doing round bales, you generally, will have a different styles, you'll have a single long spear in the middle with two prongs down to the left and the right side in order to keep that bale from spinning and so you're going to want that. The other style of these is called a hugger. Huggers are going to require a hydraulic function out on the loader in order to grab the bale and that's going to have two pieces that are going to come around and grab and squeeze the bale. 

 

It's a nice option for guys who are getting bales that are wrapped because you're not taking a spear and stabbing in and compromising the wrap around your bale or if you're wrapping very, very dense bales, some of the strongest, best made balers out there can make bales that are dense enough that it's actually hard to push into them with one of these spears. 

 

Variable density baler, balers can give you a soft core in the middle to punch a spear into with a dense bale around the outside. That will help a little bit, but you'll be surprised when you get some of those really heavy packed bales that it can be even difficult to shove a big metal spear into it. 

 

Once you've established the weight of the bales that you're going to be purchasing and handling, you need to work through exactly what kind of equipment you need in order to be able to move that bale. We've talked through a lot of loader specifications on our channel before. 

 

It's an important number to know of what your tractor can safely handle but this is a place that we really got to watch the kind of load that we're moving. As your loader goes higher, more as the load goes away from the tractor, your loader is going to be able to lift less and less, less weight. Generally, when you're manipulating bales, a lot of times you're going up to those high heights in order to be able to stack them or you have a say, four by five round bale that's going to stick several feet away from the pivot point of your tracker. 

 

Just because your tractor says that it may have, say, 700 pounds of lift capacity, does not mean you're going to safely be able to manipulate a 700 pound bale. This is one place that you'd really need to be able to exceed the weight of that bale and the capacity of your tractor. Generally, the rule of thumb that I'm going to give is you're going to want to at least another 25% more or so. 

 

1,000 pound bale, you don't want to do it a whole lot less than say a 1,200, 1,300 pound lift capacity tractor, just because you need that little bit of buffer room to go to those heights and to be able to have that bale a little bit further away from the machine. 

 

How much tractor does it take to move some of these bales? Well, a small square bale. Hey, no big deal. You can take that and throw it in the bucket of just about any tractor because you're only dealing with say 100 pounds at the very most. No issue there at all. If we're going to get into round bales, that's where our weights are going to start to push us into a little bit bigger tractor. 

 

The Kubota line, we're generally going to say you really don't want anything smaller than about a standard L series tractor in order to get into round bales. It's not to say that a Big-D won't do it, it kind of is there but I get a little worried about the amount of bowels that you need on the back end in order to really be able to do it. Standard Ls are kind of your starting point for a round. 

 

If you want to get into a heavy round or start to manipulate big bales, now we start to get into utility tractors. We're into an M series tractor and up from there. You'll see a similar story here in New Holland's line, if we go to the other side of the driveway over here, the Boomer Compacts in your 30 to 50 horsepower range, you're going to do just fine for you for a round bale. As we start to move up into the heavy rounds are a big bale and we start to exceed that 1,000 pounds or so. 

 

Moving up into a 75 horse utility tractor or an even bigger machine. If you're a producer, handling multiple bales is really where you need to be. That's a little bit on bale handling with a tractor. Just in summary you want to go back and ask your producer and try to get an idea of what kind and what weight of bales they're producing and then give yourself a little bit of buffer factor there in the capacity of your tractor. 

 

25% or so, like I said, it's kind of my guideline to make sure that you've got enough machine in order to lift that bale and also make sure that you've properly ballasted your loader. You need to have loaded tires or an implement behind you when you start to raise those bales up off the ground, especially if you're going to full height, the higher that load starts to get, the more unstable your machine is. 

 

Proper ballasting is really important and this is a place that's worth really taking seriously and spending some time on because it's very easy to get yourself into some dangerous situations when you're really pushing heavy weights around with your tractor. 

 

If you're going through the buying process for a machine like this and we can help, or if you have parts or service needs for machines that you already have, give us a call at Messick's. We're available at 800-222-3373. We're online at messicks.com