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Equipment Hub: Proving round baler performance

Curt Hoffman for Progressive Forage Published on 31 May 2019

It used to be that round baler performance was measured by the number of bales you could crank out in a day. Not anymore.

With today’s higher feed costs, producers need to look at round baler performance differently. As a producer, you need to measure round baler performance in terms of the quality of the hay produced and the impact on your bottom line.

Bale density is one of the most important factors in producing quality round bales. A recent Penn State University study showed dense silage bales improve cattle nutrition with less waste. Feed is the most expensive part of raising cattle, so retaining more of that nutritional value, and a longer bunk life, can make a significant difference to your profitability.

As Jessica Williamson, a forage management expert at Penn State, said, “The denser the bale, the better. There are benefits to hay storage and to the nutritional and quality aspects of the forage as well.”

The Penn State study showed that with silage bales, a baler that produces denser bales will save you money. There’s better nutritional value and 25 more hours of bunk life with denser balers (a 29 percent increase).

The denser you can pack that forage, the better fermentation you’re going to get. That’s because denser bales remain cooler throughout the fermentation process, causing less heat damage. Higher available crude protein is available because less heat is generated to bind the protein to the fiber during fermentation. The result is a better-quality product to feed your animals.

There’s also longer storage life. As bale density increases, total acid production increases. The increased acid content allows a longer time to feed unwrapped forage bales before they spoil. Even if just 2 percent of each bale is wasted, the savings between a dense versus a less dense bale is substantial.

And there’s another cost advantage to dense silage bales. When backgrounding cattle, smaller feeders can be purchased without a waste feed penalty. With the longer bunk life of dense bales, smaller cattle have more time to eat a bale before spoilage occurs.

Whether or not you are making silage bales, producers should always run at the highest density possible for the crop and conditions. Making fewer, denser bales in the field reduces compaction and plant damage, which promotes faster regrowth and higher tonnages for the next cutting. For dry hay or bedding stored outside, bales with greater density hold their circular shape longer, shedding water more effectively and drawing in less moisture from the ground due to a smaller ground contact patch, aiding in greatly reduced spoilage.

Increased bale density with more crop in each bale offers other significant savings. Making denser bales not only reduces your baling time but also cuts handling, wrapping and transportation costs. Quite simply, it costs less to harvest denser bales. You use less fuel, twine or net wrap and, in the case of silage bales, less film wrap. Lastly, dense bales are the best package for long-term storage. They weather better with less loss because of their ability to shed precipitation and resist absorbing moisture from the ground.

Whether you’re a part-time farmer occasionally baling 20 acres or a custom operator with 20 customers, there are plenty of options for a round baler that will suit your specific performance needs.

Variable-chamber balers produce bales with more uniform density throughout, regardless of the bale size, because the belting system keeps a constant pressure on the hay during bale formation. Fixed-chamber balers will produce bales with less dense cores than those produced in variable-chamber balers because the hay rolls loosely in the bale chamber as it fills. Maximum bale density is not reached until the bale reaches its full size within the chamber.

With variable-chamber balers, there are many different baler options that will produce uniform, dense bales in every size and crop condition.

For dense bales that are simple to feed and easier for livestock to digest, a round baler with replaceable knives that slice the bale core is a productive option. The knives enter the bale after its core is formed to produce an average cut of 6 inches in length. How much of the bale is cut to the outside surface is up to you. The outcome?

Another Penn State study showed sliced bales are 14 percent more dense than unsliced bales. The study showed slicing bales with this type of system can lead to an increase in average daily weight gain in yearling heifers of 23 percent as well as higher production rates across the board.

If you’re looking for a way to maximize your baling output and bale density, consider a rotary cutting system. In contrast to the slice system, this system cuts crop during the entire formation of the bale, as opposed to after the core is formed. The knives can be resharpened and replaced and can process crop into 2 1/2-inch lengths from the core to the outer edge of the bale. This system is an exceptional way to improve bale density because cut crop packs into a bale more tightly. With a denser silage or high-moisture bale comes greater fermentation and less spoilage. For bedding materials, this cutting process increases absorbency and makes bales easier to shake apart.

There are also specialty-crop round balers with heavy-duty pickups and other features designed to handle tough conditions and high-volume crops like cornstalks, straw or large windrows of heavy grasses like sudan.

So when it comes to evaluating round baler performance, there’s a lot more to think about than just the number of bales you can make in a day. Consider all the advantages of bale density. That’s the true measure of round baler performance.  end mark

Curt Hoffman
  • Curt Hoffman

  • Brand Marketing Manager, Crop Packaging
  • New Holland