Increase Baling Speed by Using Steam

Field Speed While Baling Hay With the DewPoint Hay Steamer

There are many benefits that come from using steam during baling, but there’s one particular benefit that sometimes gets forgotten – the impact that steam has on your baling speed. Here are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to field speed and the DewPoint steamer.

  • Using the DewPoint hay steamer can actually increase field speeds by 15-25% higher than conventional baling. That’s because the crop is softened by the steam which allows not only more crop to be packed into each each flake, but also to pack easier into each flake.
  • Conventional bale flake counts of 40 flakes/bale can typically be reduced to around 30-35 flakes/bale when using steam while maintaining excellent bale conformation and higher bale density.
  • Steam is more effective when the baler is fed to full or nearly full capacity with the stuffer cycling on every plunger stroke.
  • Load settings can be decreased by 5-10% while still achieving higher bale density.

Increasing field speeds will make your operation more efficient while increasing the quality of your hay product.

Feed the Baler to Full Capacity for Better Steam Results

Not only does increasing your field speed make you more efficient, but it will also allow the steam to be more effective.  When the hay is coming across the pickup and into the packer chamber at a full capacity rate, the steam is entrapped in the hay more efficiently than if you are baling too slow.  Much more steam is lost to the atmosphere when you are not feeding the baler to full or nearly full capacity.  Ideally field speed should be as fast as necessary to feed the baler to full or nearly full capacity with the stuffer cycling on every plunger stroke.

We understand that thin crop yields and/or rough field conditions may limit field speed and lower steam efficiency.  This underlines the importance of thorough seedbed preparation to provide a firm, smooth, field surface for the entire crop cycle.  Proper seedbed preparation pays good dividends over the life of an alfalfa stand by reducing wear and tear on equipment and operators, allowing higher field speeds with higher tons/hour baler capacities, and reducing crop loss associated with rough field surfaces.

Baler Load Settings

We have found that farmers using steam while baling can also lower baler load settings and still achieve a higher bale density.  For example, Dave, in the video, is running with a load setting of 255 in the middle of the afternoon and is putting 30-32 flakes per bale.  He states, “We’d probably be running about 270 if we were working in natural dew to get the same density in the bales that we are getting here today.”

Adjusting Steam Valves When Baling Hay

Important Tips for Proper Steam Valve Adjustment in Various Conditions

The DewPoint 6210 has four different steam valves that correspond to four different steam manifolds on the baler – 1 bottom front manifold, 1 bottom rear manifold, 1 top front manifold, and 1 top rear manifold.  See picture below.  The operator can control each of these steam manifolds individually for complete control in a variety of weather conditions.  Being able to adjust where the steam is applied to the windrow, allows farmers to make hay that has consistent leaf retention and moisture content all the way through the bale.

 

General principles for Using Proportional Valve Controls

  • The first principle to remember is to set the valves where you want more stream applied to the fully open position.
  • The second is to set the valves where you want less steam applied to a lower position as needed according to the conditions you are operating in.
  • The third principle is to use the master steam slider to control the overall steam rate to achieve the desired moisture level in your bales.

Now let’s discuss some common scenarios that you could face when operating the DewPoint hay steamer, and how you would adjust your valves for optimal leaf retention and bale quality.

Scenario 1

In this scenario you are baling into the evening as natural dew is beginning to set into the top of the windrow but the bottom of the windrow is still dry. The following valve adjustments are recommended:

  • Set the Bottom Front and Bottom Rear Valves to fully open
  • Set the Top Front and Top Rear Valves somewhat lower, perhaps between ½ and ¾ open depending on the amount of natural dew coming into the top of the windrow.
  • Use the Master Steam Rate Slider to control the overall steam rate to achieve the desired moisture level in your bales.
  • As the natural dew continues to increase in the top of the windrow you can lower the setting on the Top Front and Top Rear Valves as needed, and continue to use the Master Steam Rate Slider to control the overall steam rate to achieve the desired moisture level in your bales.

This is what the touch screen in the tractor cab would look like for Scenario 1.

Scenario 2

In this scenario you are baling in the morning as natural dew is moving out of the top of the windrow but the bottom of the windrow is still moist from natural dew.

  • Set the Top Front and Top Rear Valves to fully open
  • Set the Bottom Front and Bottom Rear Valves somewhat lower, perhaps between ½ and ¾ open depending on the amount of natural dew remaining in the bottom of the windrow.
  • Use the Master Steam Rate Slider to control the overall steam rate to achieve the desired moisture level in your bales.
  • As the natural dew continues to decrease in the bottom of the windrow you can raise the setting on the Bottom Front and Bottom Rear Valves as needed, and continue to use the Master Steam Rate Slider to control the overall steam rate to achieve the desired moisture level in your bales.

This is what the touch screen in the tractor cab would look like for Scenario 2.

Scenario 3

In this scenario you are baling in the daytime with no natural dew. The hay is dry but the daytime temperature is less than 90 deg. F and winds are calm.

  • Set All Valves to fully open.
  • Use the Master Steam Rate Slider to control the overall steam rate to achieve the desired moisture level in your bales.

This is what the touch screen in the tractor cab would look like for Scenario 3.

Scenario 4

In this scenario you are baling in the afternoon with no natural dew and the windrow is “bone dry”.  The wind is blowing at 10-20 mph and the temperature is near 100 deg. F.  These are less than ideal baling conditions but you need to continue baling because of an approaching storm system or to keep up with your baling schedule.

  • Set the Top Rear and Bottom Rear Valves to fully open. 
  • Set the Top Front and Bottom Front Valves to about ¾ open.
  • Use the Master Steam Rate Slider to control the overall steam rate to achieve the desired moisture level in your bales.
  • In these more adverse baling conditions you can run the Master Steam rate up as high as is needed, even up to 100% if necessary to reach a good bale moisture level.  Remember in these conditions it is best to run the Top Front and Bottom Front Valves at a lower rate because you will still get good leaf retention at the baler pickup. The Top Rear and Bottom Rear Valves will apply the majority of the steam to the windrow as it passes through the Packer area of the Baler and this moisture will stay in the hay as it passes through the Stuffer and into the Bale Chamber.  This method will allow you to make good hay in more adverse conditions when it is necessary.

Remember that when you are baling in high temperatures and using high steam rates you should monitor your bale temperature using a suitable bale temperature probe to be sure your internal bale temperature does not exceed 135 deg. F.  Any temperature probe must remain in the bale for a few minutes to obtain an accurate bale temperature reading. Click HERE to read our blog about managing bale temperature.

This is what the touch screen in the tractor cab would look like for Scenario 3.

Making Quality Alfalfa Hay With Bracken Farms

The Bracken’s Tried Everything

Before Howard Bracken and his son Kirby discovered the advantages of the DewPoint steamer, they tried everything to make quality hay.  Like many others in the Western U.S., they had struggled for decades to get good natural dew to bale hay.

They started their operation with small-square balers where they would bale the hay before it was completely cured.  With small bales, baling with stem moisture wasn’t too big of a risk, but once they moved to large balers, they knew they couldn’t push their luck with stem moisture any longer because the risk of fire was too great.

The Bracken’s were having such a hard time getting dew that Howard decided to take things into his own hands.  They purchased two water trucks and started spraying water on the hay prior to baling.  Howard is the first to admit that it wasn’t perfect, but it was all that they had to work with.  This required two extra operators and more equipment, but it was better than the alternative of bone dry hay that would surely shatter during the baling process.

What Benefits Are They Seeing with The DewPoint Hay Steamer 

After seeing the machine work during Staheli West’s 72-hour challenge, they knew that they had found the solution to an age-old problem.  The Bracken’s sold two of their recently purchased balers and their water trucks and bought two brand new DewPoint machines. Howard and Kirby explain what advantages they are seeing now:

  • More Control: With the steamer the Bracken’s are able to control the type of hay that they make by adding the perfect amount of moisture in the form of steam. Kirby Bracken states, “If you’ve got dry how, you basically set it and forget it… I watch moisture 90% of the time and the baler monitor. Unless my moisture starts to change, I can adjust the steamer.”
  • More Consistency: Moisture and dew conditions can vary dramatically while baling.  Using the DewPoint steamer, you can adjust the amount and placement of the steam to make a consistent hay product every time.  Howard explains, “From the time you start baling with the steamer till you’re done, that hay is the same all the way through the whole night.”
  • More Value: Making a consistent, high-quality product every time increases hay value.  Kirby says, “[Exporters] know about steamed hay, and they prefer having the steamed hay. They have offered $5-$10 a ton more for steamed hay.
  • More Leaf Retention: Studies show that baling with steam reduces leaf loss by 58% compared to baling with dew.  Howard explains, “I can see that there is less hay dropping on the ground underneath that baler with the steamer, than you did even when you’re in good dew.”
  • More Productivity with Less Equipment: Baling with steam expands your baling window, which means that you can bale more acres with less equipment. The Bracken’s went from a 6-man crew to a 2-man crew and still get heir hay up quicker.  Kirby states, “With the two steamers and two balers, I go across 1600 acres in three days… We’re doing significantly more in less amount of time.”
  • Scheduling: So many other operations can be scheduled on a farm, but mother nature cannot be scheduled.  As long as the hay is dry, you can schedule when and how you bale your hay.  Kirby explains, “I start knowing a quota that I want to meet.  That’s my schedule and I run with it.  At the end of the day, that’s what I get done.”
  • More Yield on 4th Crop: Farmers using the steamer are seeing higher yields at the end of the year.  The faster you can cut, rake, and bale your hay, the quicker you can get the water back on the field, and preserve precious growing days.  Kirby states, “Fourth crop cutting has turned into just a regular crop now… It’s not a short crop anymore.”
  • More Possibilities: The Bracken’s are seeing benefits when it comes to 3-way hay.  Howard says, “You can get that grain hay real good and dry, and then put the steam with it… This stuff that’s steamed flakes and it’s really nice stuff.”

It’s an Investment

The steamer is a significant investment, but farmers like the Bracken’s are seeing these benefits and more.  The Bracken’s are confident that their steamers will last for years, due to the longevity of the machine.

Click HERE to read and watch Part 1 of “A Bracken Farms Story”.

 

Start Baling

First, Determine the Condition of the Windrow

In the last blog post, we talked about what to do when you first arrive in the field to bale hay.  Before baling hay one should determine the condition of the windrow.  This means that farmers should make sure that their hay is fully cured, and determine if there is any moisture or dew in the windrow.  Often, there is either natural dew on the top of the windrow, or settled into the bottom of the windrow.  This is important to know where the dew in the windrow is, so that we know where to apply the steam in order to make a consistent bale from top to bottom.

In the video, Dave determines that the hay is fully cured, meaning that there are no green stems or stem moisture in the cured hay.  He also determines that the top of the windrow is bone dry, but that there is a little natural dew in the bottom of the windrow.  He uses this information to apply steam to the hay when he starts baling.

Adjusting Steam Rates

Capture  Drawing of Steam Manifolds  Steam Coming Out of Baler

Knowing where the moisture or dew is in the windrow is important, because with the DewPoint hay steamer, we can control where we apply the steam.  Typically, there are four different steam manifolds mounted in the baler.  The bottom front manifold is fastened under the pickup and steams the bottom of the hay before the baler picks it up.  The top front manifold typically sits on the wind-guard and steams the top of the hay as the hay is picked up.  Two more manifolds, as shown in the graphic above, steam the top and bottom of the windrow as it passes through the feed chamber.  This combination of manifolds allows operators to make a consistent, quality product across a wide variety of weather and natural dew conditions. Using steam has been proven to reduce leaf loss by 58% compared to good, natural dew.

In the video, Dave will start baling with both the top front and top rear manifolds at 100%, while both bottom manifolds are started at 60%.  This is due to the moisture that is in the bottom of the windrow.  The master steam slider, controls all four valves proportionally.  Dave will set the master steam rate at 60% to start out.  We will keep it here until the Gazeeka moisture sensor reads the moisture in the bales as they come out the bale chute.

Starting to Bale

When you first start baling, it’s important to bale the first 4-5 bales with a lower steam rate.  In the video, Dave starts with his master steam rate at 60%.  He will maintain that steam level until he bales 4-5 bales, which will give him a feel for how much steam he should apply to the hay.  Starting with a lower steam rate also ensures that we don’t make the hay too wet.  Baling a few bales dry is better than baling a few bales too wet.  Once the Gazeeka moisture sensor reads the moisture of the first 4-5 bales we can adjust our steam accordingly.  Often, we will need to increase our steam rate incrementally until we reach our desired moisture level.  In Utah, our optimal bale moisture should be between 12-15%.

Maintaining Operating Pressure

The DewPoint machines are designed and programmed in a way that maintains boiler steam pressure automatically, without any input from the operator.  Once the machine is put in field mode, all the operator must do is adjust the steam rates according to the Gazeeka moisture readings.  The boiler is programmed to maintain an operating pressure of around 12 PSI.  Depending on the steam rate, the DewPoint machine will either turn off or turn on the burner automatically or release excess pressure through the steam purge valve in order to maintain a constant steam pressure.

What’s Next

Now that we know how to properly start baling with the DewPoint hay steamer, our next blog will cover some best practices when it comes to applying steam to the hay.  We will cover the different valve adjustments that you have available to you as you encounter different dew conditions.

When You Arrive at the Field

Check the Windrow Before Baling

When you first arrive at the field to bale, you should understand the moisture characteristics of the windrow.  If your hay is fully cured and has some natural dew, be sure to understand where the dew in the windrow is, or if you are baling with stem moisture, make sure you understand that as well.

Checking the hay in the windrow in several different locations with a moisture probe is a good technique for determining how much moisture is in the windrow.  Sometimes, there can be more moisture in the bottom or top of the windrow and in different locations in the field.  Knowing where the moisture is at in the windrow is important because with the DewPoint 6210, an operator can add more moisture in the form of steam to either the top or bottom of the windrow as the hay is picked up by the baler. So, in the case of the video, there is still natural dew in the bottom of the windrow, but the dew on top has burned off.  Dave will know to add more steam to the top of windrow and less steam to the bottom in order to make a consistent bale all the way through.

Probe Moisture in Windrow Snip

Other Techniques for Checking Hay

Besides using a moisture probe, there are other techniques that you can use to determine if your hay is fully cured, or if there is stem moisture present.  One method is the twisting method. You take a handful of dry hay from the windrow and give it a strong twist.  If it breaks easily within the first 1-2 twists, it is likely that the hay is fully cured.  Stems that are fully dry should break apart easily when you twist the hay.

To check for stem moisture in the hay, take your thumb and try to peel off the skin of the alfalfa stem.  If you peel off the skin of the stem and discover a green stem underneath, then you likely have stem moisture.  If you can’t peel off the skin of the stem, then it likely means that you don’t have stem moisture and the hay is fully cured.

Baling with steam is much more effective when the hay is fulled cured.  Fully cured hay allows hay to absorb the steam and become soft and pliable.  We don’t recommend baling with stem moisture when using steam.

Twising hay for checking windrow

DewPoint 6210 Startup in the Field

Once you determine that your hay is fully cured, and you know the condition of the hay in the windrow, it’s time to jump in the cab and start baling.   In the video, we have determined that the hay is pretty dry, but the bottom of the windrow still has dew in it, so Dave adds more steam to the top of the windrow.  We like to start with the steam rate a little low until we run a few bales through the baler.  This allows the Gazeeka moisture sensor, which is mounted on the back of the baler, to pick up a moisture reading across the entire width of the bale.  Once you receive the moisture readings from the Gazeeka, you will know exactly how much steam to add to the hay.  In the video, we start our master steam rate at 60%, and we will slowly increase that until we receive moisture readings between 12-15%.

Gazeeka 1    Gazzeka monitor snip

What’s Next

Now that we’ve discussed what to do when you first arrive in the field, and we have determined the condition of our hay prior to baling, our next newsletter will cover the actual field operation of the DewPoint 6210 and how to set the steam rates on the different top and bottom steam manifolds located on the baler.  Stay tuned!

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