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Does it Pay to Make My Own Bales? - Ackerman's Equipment
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Do you want to know if making your own bales will be more cost-effective than conventional hay-making systems? Unfortunately, we can’t give an answer that will fit everyone’s situation. However, we can give you some things to consider when comparing your current operation to the changes you’d like to make. You’ll want to think about your herd size, forage quality, and machinery when you begin calculating costs. Even if you’re not a producer of a large herd, the sections below may help you find the best use of your financial resources and the time you have.

What can Baling Offer?

The initial costs of switching to baling your own hay can get expensive. Is the conversion worth the expense?

Before we compare the different kinds of equipment you may need for your operation, let’s look at the outcomes of baling. Recent studies show that there tends to be a decrease in feed and storage loss when farmers make their own bales. Here are just a few examples:

  • Harvest times can be widened when hay is cut and baled at higher moisture levels.
  • Average baleage loss is about four to five times less than dry hay
  • Wrapping bales allow fermentation to occur in the hay for an increased nutritional benefit. (In our article “How Bale Wrappers Benefit Farmers,” you can read more about the positive effects of wrapping bales.)
  • The increased nutrition lowers or omits the need for feed supplements.
  • Baleage that has balanced nutrition and dry matter shows improved weight gain in beef and dairy cattle but is most beneficial for calves.

You’ll want to determine your forage dry matter and relative feed quality when comparing feed costs. Think of the costs that feed loss has raised in your current situation. Will baleage help you save a significant amount in comparison?

How Much Space Will You Need?

Understanding your feeding needs is crucial when calculating potential costs and acreage needed. In an agricultural research article written by J. Ross Pruitt and R. Curt Lacy titled “Economics of Baleage for Beef Cattle Operations,” they provided an equation for the acreage needed to feed your cattle. Their example stated that the average 1,200-pound cow needs roughly 2% of its body fat (24 lbs/0.012 tons) in dry matter. With a 100-cow operation, you’ll need at least 180 tons of dry matter to feed them for 150 winter days (# of cows x 0.012 tons x days). Let’s assume you could yield three cuttings of hay in a year and roughly 1.5 tons of dry matter per acre. You need 40 acres to provide 180 tons of dry matter.

Suppose the space necessary to feed your cows is not available. In that case, you may want to look at the additional feed purchases to see if utilizing your current acreage is still beneficial.

What Should I Look for in a Baler?

The next thing to consider is machinery. If you are only starting the process of producing your own hay for feed, we highly recommend purchasing a baler that can handle high moisture bales and a bale wrapper rather than putting more money into conventional hay harvest and storage. This helps you avoid the ongoing costs that will come from feed supplements, losing up to 25% of your hay while it’s in storage, and paying the property tax and insurance for the new barn.

When converting bales to baleage, the typical weight of a bale is roughly 1,500 – 2,000 pounds. You’ll want to be sure your current baler is able to handle the weight and moisture of the forage if it is not a high-moisture model. Our Pioneer Balers are a perfect example of conventional balers with that ability. If you’ve already got a baler in your possession but it’s not suited to begin wrapping your bales, there may be a few options you can explore.

One option is to look at the available add-ons for your current baler. Some companies do offer kits that can equip your current baler to handle heavier high-moisture forage. If a kit isn’t available, you may be able to afford the loan payments or full purchase of another baler by renting or selling your current equipment and calculating what will be saved in ongoing feed costs. We also offer a wide selection of used equipment that might be a fit for you.

Purchasing a Bale Wrapper

If you’re set on utilizing high-moisture bales for higher nutrition and reduced feed loss, you have a few bale wrapper options to look into. Two styles of wrapping machines are Individual Bale Wrappers and In-Line Wrappers which keep the bales in a continued wrapped line. Which kind of wrapper you want will depend on the number of cows you have, acreage, cost, and time. Some people require individual wrappers for the sake of fitting more bales on a specific plot on their farm.

On page 5 of Pruitt and Lacy’s article, they discuss the possible savings that you could have from any general baler. According to their calculations, most farmers with over 100 head of cow should see a notably lower feeding cost for each cow. This is due to the reduced hay loss that comes from baleage and the decrease or removal of supplementation. It should be noted, that smaller farms may not find the money saved through baleage covers the overall cost for this kind of equipment. Be sure to look at your current losses and costs before determining if this kind of purchase is your better option.

Though there are clear differences between in-line and individual wrappers, not all individual bale wrappers have the same build. Even balers made by the same company can vary in crucial ways that you may want to keep in mind before making a purchase. As an example we have compared the major similarities and differences between two of our Diamond Bale Wrappers:

Diamond Z577

Diamond Z560

  • Fewer than 400 (4’x4’) bales a year
  • Programmable counter display
  • Maximum bale weight = 1800 lbs
  • Baler height = 8.5 ft.
  • Baler width = 8 ft.
  • Film width = 20” or 30”
  • Self-loading
  • Baler weight = 2,100 lbs
  • Right wheel stabilizes when wrapping. Swings in for narrow transport.
  • Requires min. 45 HP
  • Fewer than 400 (4’x4’) bales a year
  • Standard counter display
  • Maximum bale weight = 1800 lbs
  • Baler height = 5.6 ft.
  • Baler width = 4 ft.
  • Film width = 20” or 30”
  • 3-point mounted machine
  • Baler weight = 950 lbs
  • Operates at a stationary position resting on the ground.
  • Requires min. 45 HP

Other Things to Keep in Mind

There are other costs to consider that we haven’t covered. Over 2/3rds of the expenses on a beef cow-calf operation come from their pasture, feed, and forage costs. Take a look into the costs of equipment repairs, forage production, cutting, raking, tedding, or transportation of the bales while preparing for your baling operation. If you do purchase a bale wrapper, one tip for saving time and money is to wrap your baleage at your desired storage site. It is best to pick a spot that is well-drained and less likely to be near trees or other nesting areas of wildlife.

While we are all for the benefits of farms baling their own hay, our suggestions are not a solution for everyone. Larger operations will certainly see financial and storage benefits, but much smaller farms may find that the saved time doesn’t compensate for the overall cost. Now that you’ve got some numbers in mind, do you think that making your own bales will pay?

Our resources and where you can learn more:

LSU Ag Center Article, written by J. Ross Pruitt and R. Curt Lacy – “Economics of Baleage for Beef Cattle Operations”
Makin’ Hay article – “Will Baleage Pay? Consider Feed Needs, Economics”