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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.”

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