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.

15 thoughts on “Baling, baling over the …

  1. How long does it take to become proficient in this? It sounds complicated – as explaining how to drive a car to somebody without a driver’s license! I like the image of in the left bottom corner – of the “huge” bale in front of the “small” tractor … interesting contrast!

    • Your question about the learning curve is a good one. The difficulty in learning is that the equipment is heavy, moves at a high rate of speed, is very expensive, and a final product (the bales) in good shape is critical! So, there’s lots of pressure to reduce the curve and get it right the first time. I’d say I made pretty good bales the first time I used our round baler but, of course, I get more and more proficient every year. It’s funny how little tricks of timing and gearing and speed and perhaps even things I don’t know I’m doing creep into the mix and make everything go more smoothly. I don’t believe you can describe how to run one of these machines … you just have to know, in theory, what’s going on … and (as the Nike Corporation would say) Just Do It! D

  2. Nice post and I enjoyed seeing the bale being harvested. I’ve never seen the bales created in our local fields so a learning experience here. Bit of a let down at the end. When you said “eject the bale” I pictured it flying across the field in a large arc. 🙂 Farming is hard work … even with technology on your side. I admire this and am impressed with your labors alongside the teaching. I don’t imagine the two go hand in hand like this very often.

    • Wow … a bale in flight would be a dangerous thing indeed! The wet ones produced for haylage can weigh near a ton and the dry ones we generate run a little less than half that. We are not full-time farmers and Joanna and I have always held ‘day jobs.’ Once-upon-a-time we were producing beef, pork, lamb, and various species of poultry as breed stock and as ‘freezer’ beasts. We hand-milked goats and cows and produced little bits of cheese and butter for our own consumption. We specialized in heritage and endangered breeds including American Milking Devon cattle and Tamworth hogs. Our short comings related to marketing our product and we lost our shirts. The intensity of work and productivity reached its peak perhaps a decade ago after which time the girls slowly detached from the farm. Their educational pursuits and careers took them elsewhere and Joanna and I have had to adapt to changes in circumstance. We now manage a large flock of Shetland sheep and a variety of poultry. The days of producing nearly everything for our table are gone but we have yet to purchase meat of any sort from the grocery for nearly 20 years; and, there is satisfaction in that, to be sure. Thanks for the observations and comment.

      • Even if you are not entirely self-sufficient now, that you once were is pretty darned cool, David. I am not sure I ever had it in me to do the constant hard work of a farmer. No calling in sick, that’s for sure. A ton of flying hay sounds pretty exciting albeit a dangerous entertainment. Guess just rolling out the back is a wiser way.

        • The phrase ‘rolling it out the back’ reminds me of some pretty funny, and some pretty scary, stories about farming ground in our area which has real topography in certain places. Almost every hay farmer has a story about forgetting to drop the bales with the long axis parallel to the slope of the hill! Perhaps Steve can calculate for us the velocity of a break-away (1500 pound) bale rolling down a hill with so-and-so slope! Sometimes the bales would fetch up against a tree. Others would land in a pond, while others would streak across the street! Luckily we’re pretty rural and I have never heard reports of the coincidence of a run-away bale and an automobile! D

            • Wow … I had no idea that Paradigm Farm existed … thanks for a great bit of trivia to have in my back pocket. By the way, Joanna just reminded me that some bales (squares in this case) do indeed explode out of the baler and fly across the sky (just a little bit anyway). Check out this video of a bale kicker in action.

              • Woo-hoo. Where’s Major King Kong when you need him?

                What I did is “Embed” the video. On YouTube, click on “Share”. You will then see the option to “Embed” and copy/paste the link that pops up. When you post your comment the video will show.

    • Yeah … I had fun. The machines weren’t coordinated in any way and this made being in the appropriate place at the appropriate time quite difficult … so I had to run or I would have missed them pass. It was certainly something to watch, and the weather was just right. I was alarmed to learn however that the rotary rake really does throw lots of dirt and small stone (one learns this especially when they are positioned on the ‘downstream’ side of the rotation). I was using my really fancy, and quite expensive, 14 – 24 mm lens when I realized that C was hurling a cloud of rocks at me and right at my most favorite lens (which has a huge expanse of glass, right up front). After just a moment of panic I checked the front lens element and everything was OK – whew. I hope you showed them the images and that they were pleased with them. I talked to J and C at the fair and they said they liked the images of the old homestead – I was pleased. D

  3. Wow! Your friend has some pretty high tech equipment! Bet it makes the job a lot easier and faster. Wonderful pics. Hope he’s seen them. Your vintage version looks like it takes a lot of skill! Sounds a lot like parallel parking! Do your bales sit on the ground in the barn or do they have to be elevated in case of wet floors? What a lot of work. Bet you’re glad it’s over for another year! Your rain is coming here tomorrow. We could use it! BTW … have I heard the brand “vermeer” before? In the cream separator post perhaps?

    • Yeah, the family that farms down by the river are great people. We got to know them through 4H and have interacted for as long as we’ve been here. The kids all knew each other and the Mom and Dad have always been willing to help us out when we’ve needed a bit of farm advice. They’ve always worked really hard. The youngest just finished up his years in 4H and Joanna and I went to the livestock sale and purchased one of two dairy beef he showed … our freezers were getting low and he had a nice animal that went for a good price. Regarding our bales … putting them on wooden pallets is something we have done in the past but find that keeping them on the ground affords just one less level of complexity. A very little bit of the bale which is in direct contact with the ground may get a bit moldy but it doesn’t amount to much and, in any case, the group is in a stack three-layers high … so only a few are actually on that first layer and in contact with the ground. Finally … you must have seen reference to Vermeer in some other post about balig … the cream separator is a Royal Blue Junior! D

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