Baling in Monsoon or Moderate Humidity Conditions

The Monsoon Season

For many, the monsoon seasons have arrived, which makes it difficult to put up hay. Often, the hay is too wet during the night to bale, and too dry during the day. If you’re lucky, you might find a short window of time where the hay is just right. It’s challenging, but the steamer can make it much easier. This blog discusses how to best utilize the DewPoint steamer in moderate humidity conditions. If you are dealing with high humidity conditions, check out our blog on baling in high humidity conditions where we discuss baling with stem moisture and using a preservative.

Baling During The Day

When baling in moderate humidity conditions or during monsoon seasons when the moisture from natural dew is too high at night, many DewPoint machine operators will wait until the nighttime dew is gone in the late morning or early afternoon and then start baling. In these conditions most baling will be done in the afternoon and early evening hours before the natural dew sets in too heavy again.

Applying Steam During The Day

In the morning, when the sun comes up, the heavy nighttime dew starts to burn off and sink to the bottom of windrow, leaving the top of the windrow dry and crispy. With the steamer, you can use the dew at the bottom of the windrow, and inject steam into the top of the windrow. As you bale throughout the day, you can make steam adjustments as you see fit to keep the moisture in each bale consistent. For more on adjusting steam rates click here. DewPoint machine operators will typically be able to bale hay with steam throughout the day and maintain good moisture, and by using the Gazeeka moisture sensor, you will know how much steam to apply to keep the moisture in an acceptable range. For more on using the gazeeka to judge bale moisture read this blog.

Conclusion

Dealing with humid conditions while trying to find the perfect baling window is tough, but being able to make quality hay during the day when the hay is dry makes it much easier. Alan Adams, steamer owner in Parowan, Utah states, “It’s a dream come true to be able to produce ‘dew’ when you need it. If you ask me my favorite thing about it, it’s absolutely the versatility of being able to deal with so many situations and have one thing that can change the game for you.

Science Tells us Why Steam is So Effective When Baling Hay

Steam Does More Than Just Increase Baling Windows

There is nothing better than receiving a perfect natural dew when baling.  However, perfect dew conditions are few and far between for many hay producers, especially in drier, arid climates.  Often the hay is either too dry or too wet and if you’re lucky, you may have a small window of opportunity when the hay is just right.  Being able to bale with steam when the hay is dry opens up the baling window and allows you to be so much more productive.  Being able to bale both day and night and make quality hay doing it isn’t the only benefit to baling with steam.  The science behind baling with steam shows why it’s so effective.

1 Gallon of Water Produces Around 1,700 Gallons of Steam

To start, let’s talk about the properties of steam.  Steam is the invisible hot gas that forms from water when it boils. The visible vapor we see is the steam beginning to condense to vapor when it contacts cooler air.  Did you know that 1 gallon of water will make approximately 1,700 gallons of steam at sea level and even more at higher elevations? This allows every leaf and stem in the crop to be treated without becoming too wet.  Combine the heat and vapor from steam, and you get a moisture medium that is optimal for penetrating the hay and softening it, similar to how a steam clothes iron is able to soften clothes and smooth out the wrinkles.

Steam Particles are Finer than Water Droplets

Unlike particles in the solid or liquid state, gas particles are widely separated and are free to move randomly.  As shown in the image below, the steam particles are separated, whereas the hydrogen bonding in water is strong.  Steam is so effective at softening the crop during baling, because the particles are separated and can, therefore, enter the tiny pores in the plant more effectively than water or dew.

Hydrolysis 

Ty Redd, Professor of Chemistry at Southern Utah University, explains that many plants will drop their leaves as a result of dry conditions to conserve water. This causes dehydration and the shutting down of biochemical pathways such as photosynthesis and carbohydrate biosynthesis. This causes plant death and the leaves fall from the plant.  The dehydrated carbohydrates in hay and other crops after they are cut and have cured have a strong attraction to water.  The water hydrogen bonds to the starch and carbohydrates.  The steam is able to penetrate into the plant to extend plant biochemistry and maintain the structural integrity of the plant.  Plants harden upon death but added water not only prolongs this effect, but it can also help break down some of the starches and structural chemicals via hydrolysis and thereby soften the total plant permanently.

An Everyday Analogy

One of the things that inspired Dave Staheli, founder of Staheli West, to consider steam when baling hay was his experience at a taco restaurant. He observed the workers placing cold, hard taco shells into a steamer oven and blasting each shell for a split second with steam. He noticed that the steam completely changed the pliability of the taco shells. They were soft and pliable after being steamed. Steam has a similar effect on hay.

Let’s go back to the clothes iron example. The reason ironing works to remove creases is because it loosens the ties between the long chains of molecules that are present in polymer fiber materials. The heat, combined with the weight of the ironing plate stretch the fibers in the fabric which maintains it’s new shape when cool. Some people use a spray bottle with water to loosen the intermolecular bonds in the fabric.

Steaming hay is very similar in the fact that the heat helps to soften the crop material and the water vapors help to break the intermolecular bonds in the hay. We talk more about this softening effect below. Being able to make the hay more pliable increases leaf retention, bale conformity, and appearance of the hay.

How Much Water is Added to Each Ton of Hay?

On a warm, windy day, you will likely add about 5-7 gallons of water in the form of steam to 1 ton of dry hay.  This equates to only 2-3% moisture addition by weight but this 5-7 gallons of water applied to this 1 ton of hay is converted into 8,500-12,000 gallons (or more) of steam which allows every leaf and stem in that ton of hay to be treated without becoming too wet.

Some think that the bale weight increase that comes from using steam is all water weight.  1 gallon of water weighs 8.34 lbs, so the most weight you could add in the form of water is around 58 lbs.  This is likely the same weight that would be added if you were baling with natural dew.  Many customers have increased their bale weights by 100-200 lbs per 3×4 bale.  Jeff Wood, a DewPoint owner, states, “I figure I’ve picked up at least 100-150 lbs a bale. I used to think when I first looked at it ‘well it’s all water weight,’ but it’s not. You look at the leaf in those bales and you understand exactly where it’s coming from.”

How Does the DewPoint Hay Steamer Pay for Itself

The DewPoint Steamer is a Significant Investment

Implementing the DewPoint Hay Steamer into an operation is a significant investment, and we know that things on the farm are sometimes tight.  It’s hard to know how things are going to pay for themselves.  Through years of personal experience on the farm, and years of customer feedback, we can show how these machines will pay for themselves. Dave Condie, a steamer owner in Utah, states: “In every piece of farm equipment that you buy you look at ‘how fast am I going to pay this off?’ This piece of equipment pays off faster than anything I’ve ever bought before.” In this blog, we will cover all of the different ways the steamer pays for itself, and we will do this by using real-life customer stories and videos.  As an overview, here are some of the ways that the steamer can pay for itself:

  • Increased leaf retention and bale weight
  • Higher yields on last cuttings
  • Increased labor and equipment productivity
  • Increased hay quality and consistency

Now let’s look at each of these individually.

Increased Leaf Retention and Bale Weight

The Brackens in Enterprise, Utah purchased two DewPoint steamers after they witnessed Staheli West’s 72 Hour Challenge (Click HERE to see 72 Hour Challenge Video).  Since Purchasing the steamers, they are not only receiving $5-$10 more per ton of hay, but they are also experiencing a bale weight increase of 150-200 lbs per bale.  Brandon Yardley, a steamer owner in Milford, Utah, explains, “I calculated everything…If everything was as bone dry like it was on first crop. It was around 15,000 bales, just on bale weight alone, to justify the steamer cost. I think you could pay it back in a year.” (For Brandon’s full video interview click HERE). Many other customers say that their bale counts remain the same, but the bales are heavier due to increased leaf retention.

Higher Yields on Last Cuttings

For many of our customers, the steamer pays for itself by assisting in shortening the crop cycle (Days it takes to cut, rake, bale, and haul the hay).  Being able to cut larger amounts of acreage, knowing that you will be able to bale it, allows farmers to get the hay up and the water back on their fields sooner.  Growing days are so valuable in alfalfa production, especially during the warmer months.  Growing days during the summer, when it’s warm, will pay off in last cutting yields.  Ryan Schwebach, a steamer owner in New Mexico, states, “We started cutting along with everyone else in the valley. We finished baling 2 weeks [before] everybody else. And so our 2nd cutting was baled and in the barn before guys even started cutting their 2nd cutting. Then 3rd cutting we gained a week. Then 4th cutting we gained a week. And then 5th cutting came around and people said ‘5th cutting… you’re lying to us’ [and I said] just come look at the books.” (For Ryan’s full video interview click HERE). For these customers and many more, increasing the last cutting yields can pay for the steamer very quickly.

Increased Labor and Equipment Productivity 

Baling hay can be very difficult, frustrating, and stressful.  Having hay on the ground and waiting for natural dew is often unproductive.  Besides that, sleeping in a truck is not a very comfortable place to sleep.  The steamer gives farmers the flexibility to bale hay whenever the hay is dry enough.  Many of our customers still prefer to bale at night, but many bale in the day. Either way, as long as the hay is dry enough, you can count on a good day’s worth of baling.  Many of our customers are able to cut down their baler fleet because they are now able to bale more hay each day with less equipment.  Jungo Ranches, in Orovada, Nevada, states, “Last year we ran 4 balers, 4 tractors, and this year we’re running 2 balers with the steamers and we have a third brand new baler sitting in the building all summer… We don’t need it. We’re able to bale more with 2 machines than we could with 4.” (Click HERE for Jungo Ranch’s full video interview).

Increased Hay Quality and Consistency

Another way the DewPoint machine pays its way is by increasing the quality and consistency of the hay being produced. The Brackens in Enterprise, Utah are receiving $5-$10 more per ton for their steamed alfalfa hay, and their hay is consistent from start to finish.  James Sloan, a DewPoint owner in New Mexico, says, “When you looked at two or three loads of hay. The first part of every load was always too dry, and the last part was too wet, and the middle was just about right. I think we took all that out, and now our hay is as consistent as we could ask for.” (for James’ full video interview click HERE). Being able to control the level of moisture applied to the hay gives our customers the ability to create high quality and consistent hay.

A Final Word 

We know that the DewPoint steamer is a large and for some a scary investment.  Many of our most dedicated customers were very apprehensive at first, but are now lifelong customers and friends of Staheli West.  Instead of selling the DewPoint machine to potential customers, we like to educate customers on the benefits that the steamer can bring to their operation.  We have financial analysis tools that help us give farmers an idea of how fast the steamer will pay for itself in their operation.  If you interested in the steamer and want to know what to expect in your operation, please give us a call and we will walk you through our value assessment.

Hauling, Stacking and Storage of Steam Treated Hay

Hauling and Stacking Steamed Hay 

Baling with steam allows farmers to bale quality hay all hours of the day and night.  Although many farmers still prefer to bale hay during the cooler, nighttime hours, situations may arise where you will bale hay during the day.  Some may even prefer to bale hay during the day instead of at night. The possibilities are endless when it comes to steaming hay.  When baling with steam there are some general baling and stacking guidelines that one should follow.

As a General Rule Please Observe the Following:

  • Hay baled in the evening or at night can be hauled and stacked the next morning.
  • Hay baled in the early morning to mid-morning before high steam rates are used can be hauled and stacked later the same day.
  • Hay baled from mid-morning through the early evening (hotter parts of the day) at high steam rates should not be hauled and stacked until the next morning.

Never Stack Hay that is Above 115° F

When baling in hot, dry conditions during the daytime hours, it’s possible that internal bale temperatures will exceed 115° F.  To avoid discoloration of the hay in the stack, you should not stack hay that is above 115° F inside the bale.  However, it is still okay to continue baling in these temperature ranges. In fact, with steam one can still make very good quality hay during the day and at these temperatures, but you will likely need to let the hay sit overnight before stacking.  Although uncommon, when bale temperatures exceed 135° F, you should not continue baling.  It’s helpful to use a bale temperature probe like the one we offer (see picture below).

Stacking High Temperature Hay When Weather is a Threat

What if there are storms coming and bales of hay must be moved off the field immediately after baling to avoid weather damage, but they are too hot to stack conventionally? You may consider the following procedure:

  • Pick up and haul the bales from the field using your normal method.
  • Do NOT leave bales on a truck, bale mover, etc. for more than the time it takes you to drive a short distance from the field to the stack yard or field side. Long distance hauling or stopping for more than a few minutes may cause bale discoloration.
  • Dump hay in stack location and immediately re-stack the hay in a configuration that allows heat dissipation from all four sides of the bale.
  • Use a telehandler to stack hay in a staggered pattern with 18-24” of space between each bale on each layer.
  • Start the first layer with 18-24” between the sides of each bale.
  • Add each layer with each bale straddling the spaces between the bales in the layer below. This allows heat dissipation through all four sides of each bale.
  • Allow the stack to remain in this configuration for a few days to cool.
  • Re-stack the hay in a tight stack when bales have cooled enough to stack conventionally (below 115° F).

Baling in High Humidity Conditions or with Stem Moisture

Steam is Still Effective in High Humidity Situations

In our last blog post (click HERE to read) we talked about baling with steam in very dry conditions.  This blog covers how to effectively use steam in high humidity conditions where climatic or weather conditions do not allow the hay to become fully dry and cured.

Steam is most effective at softening the crop material when the hay is allowed to fully cure and dry before baling, but even in the driest, most arid parts of the world, most farmers still experience periods of time where achieving complete dry-down of the hay prior to baling is nearly impossible. E.g., In Utah, we experience monsoon seasons in the late summer which make it hard to get fully cured hay. Some parts of the world find it difficult to ever get fully cured hay.  In situations like this, where you may even be forced to bale with stem moisture, steam is still an effective way to retain leaves during the baling process.

Using Preservative Spray With Steam

In high humidity conditions when you are unable to cure the hay completely and stem moisture is present, the use of a hay preservative along with steam treatment to maintain leaves can be effective. Hay producers know that during these conditions the leaves are often still dry and brittle, while the stems still contain moisture.  Steam can be applied at moderate rates to soften and preserve the leaves while hay Preservative can also be added at appropriate rates to meet the requirements of overall moisture level of the hay being baled.

When baling in these high-humidity conditions it is advisable to bale during the daytime hours when the hay is as dry as possible.

Using the Gazeeka Moisture Gauge

The use of the Gazeeka Moisture Gauge is very helpful to ensure your bales are within a tolerable moisture range. The Gazeeka moisture sensor is a non-contact microwave sensor that transmits high frequency electromagnetic waves between two antennae.  The two antennae are mounted on the baler so as to analyse the hay bale as it exits the baler.  These moisture readings are then transmitted to a monitor in the tractor cab.  It’s important that you monitor bale moisture and apply the appropriate amount of recommended preservative. For more information on judging bale moisture with the Gazeeka check out a previous blog by clicking HERE.

Know Your Limits

We do not recommend baling with “Stem Moisture” with or without steam unless:

  • You are using a proven preservative product
  • You have tested the preservative product along with the use of steam, and you know your limits

Increase Your Baling Windows in Wetter Climates

In high-humidity climates many farmers first start to bale in the late morning hours as the dew begins to burn off of the hay, which provides for a small baling window before the hay becomes too dry. Then, as the dew sets back in during the evening hours, farmers again will have a short baling window before the hay becomes too wet to bale.  These conditions make it difficult to not only produce consistent and quality hay but also to be productive with labor and equipment.

With the DewPoint hay steamer, farmers can typically bale during those hours of the day when the hay would otherwise be too dry to bale, which increases baling windows, allowing operators to be more productive.  Many steamer owners are able to reduce tractor and baler fleets because of increased baling windows.  This not only saves you money on capital and maintenance expenditures, but it also allows you to bale consistent and quality hay during those hours of the day when you would normally be shut down.

Baling Hay in Very Dry Conditions

Baling in Very Dry and Adverse Conditions

Baling in very dry conditions can be a result of a variety of different weather factors. Here are some of the factors that could lead you to bale in very dry conditions:

    • High ambient temperatures
    • Wind
    • Very low humidity when the windrows are dry
    • Impending storms or other threatening weather events

When baling in very dry conditions, there are several things that you should keep in mind.  One thing that you should watch are your bale temperatures.  It’s important that you keep your internal bale temperatures below 135 °F in order to avoid damaging the hay in the bale.  In the video, Dave is baling in the middle of the day with temperatures around 100 °F.  The high ambient temperatures aren’t ideal, but the bales are still very nice looking bales.  In these very dry conditions, we want to make sure that our bale temperatures are still in the safe zone of under 135 °F, so Dave uses a probe to measure the bale temperature.  Please note that it is important to let the probe sit inside the bale for a few minutes.  Dave determines that the bale temperature is 121 °F and that it is safe to continue baling. For more on managing bale temperature while baling with steam check out this blog post.

Another thing to keep in mind is the stacking of hay that is baled in hot, very-dry conditions.  To avoid discoloration of the hay in the stack you should not stack hay that is above 115° F inside the bale. That means that you may have to let the hay sit overnight before hauling and stacking the hay when baling in hot, dry conditions.

Baling in Cooler Parts of the Day

Generally, in a 24-hour period, operators will try and bale during the cooler hours of the day and at night.  Where possible, many operators like to bale sometime between 7:00 pm in the evening after the air starts to cool, and noon the next day, before the afternoon sun, temperatures, and winds combine to create more adverse conditions.  Here are some of the benefits that you will see when baling in the cooler parts of the day and at night:

  • Better efficiency with your steam by using less water and fuel
  • Bale temperatures will be lower and you will usually be able to haul and stack right away
  • Although you can produce very good looking bales in the day, bales at night tend to look better.

Steam Valve Adjustments in Hot, Dry, and Windy Conditions

When baling in hot, dry, and windy conditions, we’ve found that one particular valve setting allows us to produce better quality and better looking bales.  It’s the same valve setting that Dave is using in the video. As described in a previous blog, there are four manifolds attached to the baler as shown in the pictures below. We can control the steam rate of each of these manifolds independently from each other.

 

When baling in hot, dry, and windy conditions, it’s best to set the master steam rate near 100%. Then, turn the top front and bottom front steam manifolds down to 70-75%, and leave the top and bottom rear manifolds set at 100% open. See picture below. This will provide enough steam to retain leaves at the pickup while allowing more steam to be distributed to the top and bottom rear manifolds, where the moisture will hold better as the hay is being pulled into the flake chamber. This will improve bale quality in these adverse conditions. For more information on valve settings in different scenarios please visit this blog post.

Increasing the Boiler Steam Pressure

When dealing with hot, dry, and windy conditions, there may be occasions when you just need to get more moisture (steam) into the hay.  In the video, Dave is applying the max amount of steam and is seeing bale moisture levels around 12%.  His bale temperatures are looking fine, so he decides that he’d like to get a little bit more moisture in the hay..  To do this, he raises the operating steam pressure from 12% to the max operating pressure of 13%.  By performing this simple trick, he was able to raise bale moisture levels from 12% to 13%.

You must monitor bale temperature closely when increasing steam pressure because the more steam you apply to the hay, the warmer the bale will get.  Remember, bale temperatures should never go above 135 °F.

A Final Word

Although baling at night and during cooler hours of the day is ideal, there may be times when you will need to bale in adverse daytime conditions because of impending rainstorms or other threatening weather events. When you do have to bale during very dry and/or windy conditions you can still make good hay with acceptable bale moisture.

Monitoring Bale Moisture While Baling with the DewPoint Hay Steamer

Monitor Bale Moisture

With the DewPoint hay steamer, it’s possible to make consistent bales across a wide variety of windrow and weather conditions.  In this video and blog, we will discuss how to monitor bale moisture during baling, and how to adjust steam rates to reach your optimal moisture level.

The Gazeeka Moisture Sensor

In the video you will notice a small green control box above the steamer monitor.   That’s the monitor for the Gazeeka moisture sensor.  Most of our customer will either purchase a Gazeeka moisture sensor or some other kind of moisture sensor.  The Gazeeka moisture sensor is a non-contact microwave sensor that transmits high frequency electromagnetic waves between two antennae.  The two antennae are mounted on the baler so as to analyse the hay bale as it exits the baler.  The display unit in the cab provides moisture readings every few seconds.  We use these moisture readings to adjust how much steam we apply to the hay.

 

Adjusting Steam Rates for Desired Moisture Levels

We know that desired moisture levels vary from state to state.  In dryer, more arid states, operators aim for bale moisture content between 12-15%.  In wetter, more humid climates, bale moisture content will be higher, and preservative spray will often be used in conjunction with the DewPoint hay steamer.  In wetter climates, steam is still effective at maintaining leaves during baling.

Because the Gazeeka moisture sensor measures the bales as they are ejected from the baler, moisture readings will be 2 bales behind.  So, when making steam adjustments, it’s important to slowly increase steam rates.  Also, it’s important to remember that your steam rate changes will take 2 bales to show on the Gazeeka display unit in the cab.  In the video, Dave makes several small steam rate adjustments, but he makes sure to wait a few bales between each rate increase until he reaches his optimal moisture level.

Start on the Dry Side

When first starting to bale, it’s important to start off at a lower steam rate until the Gazeeka can provide you an accurate moisture reading.  Then, once you know your starting moisture level, you will be able to gauge how much you need to increase your steam rate.  It’s always better to bale the first few bales too dry than too wet.  If you want to read our blog about how to start baling with the DewPoint hay steamer click here.,

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”.