Condition of Hay Before Baling Alfalfa Hay

Using Steam When Baling Hay Has a Number of Different Benefits

For many years farmers relied on natural dew to bale high-quality alfalfa.  Now, farmers all across the world are using steam as their controlled moisture source to bale high-quality  alfalfa.  Using steam during the baling process has a number of different benefits.

  • Using steam during baling reduces the amount of dust in hay when it is fed.
  • Using steam increases bale density by increasing leaf retention and softening crop material.  Stems become soft when steamed, allowing them to flatten as the baler plunger presses each flake.
  • Using steam broadens the baling window.  Steaming hay allows farmers to bale more hours each day when the conditions otherwise would not permit baling.
  • Using steam will make your hay product more consistent.  Monitoring bale moisture and controlling the amount of steam applied during a wide variety of baling conditions will ensure that each bale stays consistent.

How Dry Should Your Hay Be Before Baling With Steam?

One of the most important things to consider before baling is the condition of the hay in the windrow.  For farmers using DewPoint steam technology, it is important to allow the hay to fully cure and dry in the windrow.  Baling fully cured hay allows you to add more steam to the hay to bring it up to an optimal moisture level.  Farmers using steam may bale with or without natural dew, but stem moisture should be avoided if possible, as the steam is more effective on drier hay.

Using Steam in Wetter Climates

Farmers operating in higher humidity climates where complete curation and dry-down is hard to achieve, may be forced to bale with some stem moisture.   Although steam is most effective on hay that is completely cured, steam is still an effective way to retain leaves when forced to bale with stem moisture. However, a proven hay preservative should be used in tandem with the steam when baling in wetter climates and operators must know their safe moisture limits of the hay preservative they choose to use.

Using a Moisture Probe to Check Hay Before Baling

If there is any question about the moisture level of the hay before baling, a moisture probe can be used to accurately determine the moisture of the hay in the windrow.  Start by checking the top of the windrow, by taking a handful of hay and pinching it around the end of the moisture probe.  Typically, in dry climates, we like to see hay that is 8-10% or drier.  Sometimes if the hay is drier than 8%, the moisture probe won’t pick up a reading.  Next, use the probe to check the moisture of the hay in the bottom of the windrow.  This will let you know if you need to add more steam to either the top or the bottom of the windrow as you bale.

It’s important to remember, if you are planning to bale during the night, to check the moisture of your hay before any natural dew sets in.  This will allow you to measure the true moisture of the crop material more accurately.  This will also help you determine if there is any stem moisture in the hay.

Know Your Fields

Hay farmers know that there can be a wide variation of moisture conditions in the low and high spots of a single field.  You know your fields better than anyone.  It is important to adjust your steam during baling to compensate for different moisture levels at different locations in the field.  It’s also important to continually monitor your hay as you bale.  Moisture levels can vary inside the windrow.  In the morning, and during the day, tops of windrows are generally drier than the bottoms of windrows.  Therefore, more steam should be applied to the top.  It is important to check your windrows of hay occasionally as you bale to determine the location of any moisture in the windrow so steam can be applied according to windrow conditions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, steam is more effective when the hay is fully cured and dried.  We like to see hay that is cured to 8-10% in moisture.  Using steam on hay that is fully cured, will allow you to add more moisture in the form of steam.  Using steam on dry hay will soften the hay, and reduce leaf loss.  Hay products baled with steam will be more consistent and easier to market and export.  It is important to determine the condition of your hay before baling.  Steam can be applied at different rates to the top and bottom of the windrow during baling.  Therefore, it is important to know the conditions of the windrow and where the moisture is at in the windrow.  Generally, stem moisture should be avoided if possible, and where not possible, a proven hay preservative should be used in conjunction with the steam.

Gazeeka Moisture Sensor

DewPoint hay steamer operators use a microwave moisture sensor to measure the amount of moisture in the hay bale as it comes out of the bale chamber. Farmers use these moisture readings to know how much steam to apply to the hay. From the first bale to the last, farmers are producing consistent bales with consistent moisture content.

Gazeeka 1

Managing Bale Temperature

Baling Hay During the Day in High Ambient Temperatures

Baling hay with the DewPoint hay steamer opens up baling windows that no one ever knew were possible.  E.g., Baling hay during the middle of the day on a hot, windy, June day.  Although baling hay without the need for natural dew is convenient, farmers should carefully manage bale temperatures when baling during the day in high ambient temperatures.  In fact, farmers should never allow bale temperatures to exceed 135 deg. F.

Naturally, moisture in the form of steam does add heat to the hay, and bale temperatures can become excessive during high ambient temperatures when a high rate of steam is used to bale hay. When baling with high rates of steam in high ambient temperatures, take regular bale temperature readings to be sure you are baling within a safe temperature range (below 135 deg. F).  When bale temperatures approach 135 deg. F, it’s important to either reduce steam injection rates or wait until a cooler time of day to bale.

What Happens When Bales Become to Hot

When bales are baled too hot (135 deg. F. or above) hay will caramelize, smell like tobacco and turn brown.  Not only does the appearance of the hay decline, but so does the value and digestibility of hay.  In fact, bale heating can cause some of the protein and fibre to become less digestible.

Stacking Hot Hay

Although hay may be baled up to 135 deg. F, hay should not be stacked when bale temperatures exceed 115 deg. F. We suggest allowing the hay to cool before stacking and storage.  Allowing hot bales to sit overnight, will decrease bale temperature, and allow the hay to be stacked and stored.  What if a rain storm is coming and we need to get our hay out of the field? Our next blog post will cover best practices and techniques to stack hay that would otherwise be considered too hot to stack.

Best Time to Bale With Steam

Although baling with steam does allow farmers to bale during the day, we still suggest that you bale during cooler hours of the day and at night if possible.  We will be the first ones to tell you that we have baled over 500 acres in one day and have ran the steamer around the clock in order to get the work done.  We have customers tell us all the time that they were able to beat a rain storm and put up quality hay with the steamer when they otherwise would have been forced to either wait and risk getting rained on or make the decision to bale dry hay in order to beat the storm.  In that sense, the steamer pays for itself over and over again.  However, if possible, using the DewPoint hay steamer during the cooler hours of the day and at night will reduce fuel and water consumption, and make an even better quality product.

Staheli West Bale Temperature Probe

Managing bale temperature is very important, especially when using steam to bale hay.  It is so important that we actually send every new machine with our custom bale temperature probe, which provides farmers with a guide to when it’s okay to bale and stack their hay.

Bale Temp Probe