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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.

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.”