The word is spreading about mini round balers. Once a rare oddity, many small farmers are finding that they are the best choice for getting their hay in the barn. The mini round baler works on the same principle as its bigger cousin, rolling the hay inside a chamber until it reaches a certain size, and then wrapping the bale with either twine or net and ejecting it out the rear of the machine.
The size of a mini round bale is roughly the same as the small square bales most people are used to seeing. They generally weigh 40-55 pounds and can be easily lifted by one person.
The mini round baler can be connected to the tractor either by the 3-point hitch or by a drawbar. Though most brands only connect by 3-point hitch, there are two baler models that connect to the tractor’s drawbar: the Abbriata M50 and the Caeb MP550. This is an important option to have in a mini round baler. Not only is connection much easier, but drawbar connection does not require you to lift the baler off the ground when turning corners. Many tractors are not capable of lifting something this heavy, so turning corners could be a problem with a 3-point mounted baler.
Both the Abbriata and the Caeb also have the option of running the baler out to the side of the tractor. This feature gives you improved visibility of the baler’s pickup, and also prevents hay from getting hung up on the underside of your tractor. This is extremely helpful with larger windrows and/or short tractors.
Another feature to look for with a mini round baler is whether it has gathering wheels on the sides of the pickup. Because of their diminutive size, their actual pickup width is only about 30 inches. This requires you to either make very small windrows, or miss a lot of hay. With gathering wheels, the effective pickup width is increased by half again as much. That means you can rake a bigger windrow, reducing the number of passes through the field with both your rake and your baler.
Most mini round balers also are available with the option of wrapping the bale in netting rather than string. There are a few advantages to net wrap. First, the binding process is much faster with net wrap, since the bale only has to turn 2 to 3 times rather than 8 to 12 in order to be wrapped. That means you are stopped for a shorter period of time while the bale is being wrapped, increasing production rate by 25% or more. Second, net wrap provides excellent protection to the bale against rain. Studies have shown that net wrap bales left outdoors for extended periods still only have spoilage in the first inch of the bale. This means the urgency of getting the bales out of the field and in the barn is reduced. Third, if the bales will be handled multiple times, net wrap will hold the bale together better, with less material loss. This can be especially important in the pine straw industry.
The main advantage of twine wrap is economy. Mini round balers use standard twine which is readily available at most farm stores and is fairly inexpensive. The cost per bale with twine is around 10 cents versus around 30 cents for net wrap. One other advantage of twine wrap is for the farmer who wants to leave the bales in the field for grazing animals to eat through the winter. This used to be a common practice for farmers who baled with the Allis-Chalmers Rotobaler. The bales from the last baling of the season would be left spread across the field. Animals grazing in the field could nudge the bales to roll them over, exposing fresh hay. Natural sisal twine was used which rotted off the bale over time, allowing the grazing animals to get to the interior of the bale.
Figure 3 shows several criteria that might be used to decide between net and string wrap.
Advantages of the mini round baler are:
• Very low horsepower requirement. A mini round baler needs only around 15 horsepower to operate.
• Lighter weight. Round balers weigh much less than square balers. This means they are safer to operate on hills, and tractors of any size can easily pull them.
• Simpler design. Round balers are simpler machines than square balers, with fewer adjustments required and fewer parts to break.
• Smoother operation. Square balers “kick” up to 90 times per minute. On a small tractor this constant jerking motion can be somewhat fatiguing.
• Small size. A mini round baler will actually fit in the back of a pickup truck. In storage it will take up about a quarter as much space as a square baler.
• Better weather resistance. If there is any chance the bales may stay in the field for any extended period of time, mini round bales will hold up much better to rain and dew. Net wrap provides an even higher level of protection.
• Lower output capacity. Because of the smaller pickup of a round baler and the need to stop when tying a bale, production rate with a mini round baler will only be about 1/3 to ½ what is possible with a square baler.
• Marketability. If you sell hay, you may find that your customers, who are accustomed to square balers, will not like the round bales. Practically speaking there is no difference, but people tend to stick with what they know.
• Stacking. These mini round bales actually stack well. But they will never stack as tight as a stack of square bales. This really only makes a difference if you are needing to stack 15 or 20 feet high.