Baling, baling over the …

Those who follow the farm will know that we cut hay on Thursday and raked on Friday. Because the dew was heavy, and because we felt the weather would hold, we decided to give the crop more drying time and raked it again on Saturday. I am happy to report that Joanna and I baled the crop on Sunday and it is now in the barn, safe from the front which has brought measurable rain. And so yesterday, after I had gotten off the tractor and finished afternoon chores, what do you think I did as a reward? I went to watch good friends making hay of their own, down by the river. The alfalfa they were harvesting had been cut the day before. The first photo shows a rotary rake in action. The tines rotate around a cam such that they sweep toward the ground only just before making contact with the crop. If you look closely you will see the windrow just behind the right-rear tractor tire. This rake works to push the crop up against a barrier, which you can’t see from this vantage. The effect of this stacks the windrow to encourage air movement within and through it rather than over it. The next photo shows the side-delivery rake which follows. The job of this second implement is to gently combine two windrows which allows for more effective and efficient use of the baler. The big baler is next. The operation of this mammoth New Holland 7060 is computer-assisted via sensors which have been placed inside the bale chamber and which communicate with the box shown in the center of the cab-view of the equally-large John Deere 6400. The controller tells the driver which way to lead the baler along the windrow to fully and evenly feed the voluminous and voracious bale chamber. The computer tells the driver when the chamber is full and that the bale is complete. The wrap is automatically deployed and a blade deftly cuts the bale free; hydraulic release of the bale is fully automated and orchestrated from a climate-controlled cab. All of this is a far cry from what is required to operate our vintage Vermeer 605C which is mechanically driven by a PTO but is otherwise under full manual control. Getting the bale off to a good start is a real trick. So, the next time you’re running a 605C, here’s what to do. Be sure the baler is closed by listening for the squeal of the cylinders as you shut the gate, run up the RPMs, position the baler over the windrow and then engage the PTO. As you let out the clutch pull the tractor such that the right side of the pickup runs along the right side of the windrow, once that alignment has been established immediately steer the tractor such that the left side of the pickup runs along the left side of the windrow. Look behind you and check the positions of the belts to be sure the bale is forming evenly. What you’ll see, more often than not, is that the bale is not forming nicely and there is something of an embolism in the bale which threatens to explode outward and through the rapidly-rotating belts. You need to take decisive action or you run the risk of having to shut down to remove the partially formed, mutant, bale. Immediately steer the tractor to move the baler such that hay is fed to either side of the embolism. Note that this isn’t possible, you can’t feed hay to two areas at once! You’ve got to quickly and deftly swerve to feed hay to the right of the embolism, watch the belts, and then swerve with equal precision to the left to feed hay to the left of the offending bulge. Hopefully, once this maneuver is complete, you’ll turn around to see that the embolism is gone and that you have hay distributed evenly across the chamber. With the bale now established and forming rapidly, and because the windrow is narrower than the baler, one has to negotiate the field in an exaggerated zig-zag to be sure the chamber fills evenly and uniformly. This requires constant visual checks on the chamber which can be seen through the rotating belts. The driver determines when the bale is done then stops the tractor and draws a spring-loaded wand back-and-forth across the rotating bale to deliver twine which will wrap the bale, making it easier to handle and to transport. The hatch is then opened by hydraulic cylinders and the bale is ejected as the tractor is brought forward. Determining when the bale is done is a bit of a trick as well. Wrap too soon and the bale will be too small; wrap too late and you’ll create a monster which might possibly exceed the capacity of the belts, PTO, and engine to keep the thing rotating. I’ve done this once or twice before and when it happens everything which is capable of doing so screams in protest. This typically happens as a result of inattention on the part of the operator and bales formed under these conditions may weigh nearly a ton. All you can do with a mammoth such as this is to dump it, unwrapped, into the field. So, there you go, I hope you’ve enjoyed this time making a little hay. If you’d like to see a video of the Vermeer 605C at work here on the farm, check out this YouTube video.

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