Feeding Hay More Efficiently Bale Processors Provide Efficiency to The Feed Allocation Process

Published on Fri, 08/10/2018 - 2:57pm

 Feeding Hay More Efficiently Bale Processors Provide Efficiency to The Feed Allocation Process

  By Evan Whitley, Ph.D. and Curtis Larson

 Engage a livestock producer in a conversation about the benefits of a bale processor and versatility is often the number one attribute they identify.   A bale processors ability to process almost anything including hay to cornstalks, combined with the functional performance of bunk delivery,   windrowing, total mixed ration delivery,  blowing bedding into buildings or silage into a storage facility make it an increasingly valuable tool for almost any producer. Thus, significantly improving the allocation of hay and roughage.

 “Allocation is also of utmost importance and can alter the overall efficiency by which these “stored” nutrients are utilized. Most often, allocation consists of a hay bale sometimes in a ring, in the middle of a pasture, or next to mineral and a water source. Although this is commonly the case, it  isn’t the most efficient means of feeding hay. Minimally, use a bale ring to maintain the integrity of the bale for as long as possible and to reduce losses caused by trampling and contamination from urination and defecation. To further reduce wastage, consider labor availability and minimize the amount of hay offered, but be sure to meet the daily intake needs of the animals being fed especially if a hay ring isn’t being used.

Many producers trying to further improve the overall efficiency of feeding hay are investigating other means of allocation. Bale processors are one such mechanism of choice and are used to deliver hay in both pasture (windrows/troughs) and pen environments.
From a strictly nutritional perspective, processing (i.e., lightly chopping) hay improves utilization due to the increased accessibility of structural and nonstructural carbohydrates in the hay to the microbial population in the animal’s rumen, especially for roughages that are lower in quality.
Operationally, the processor is very easy to use and does a good job of uniformly chopping most roughage sources given, including bermudagrass, alfalfa, soybean, rye/ryegrass, switchgrass and native grass. Overall, we have witnessed less wastage when “windrowing” cows in the pasture, but we have had some difficulty feeding in our concrete bunks (especially in high winds). As with any piece of equipment, we continue to learn more and better ways to use it. A good example is using the processor to cover newly constructed pond dams and rights-of-way, where it worked very well. As one would imagine, the biggest potential downside is the machine cost. This has to be weighed on a case-by-case basis depending on the size of the operation, access to resources labor, hay quality, capital, etc.) and the value placed upon convenience.”  - Noble Research Institute. www.noble.org

When choosing a Bale Processor, producers should find the following checklist adapted from a list originally compiled by Blaine Metzger, Project Manager at the Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Centre, valuable to consider:  

Processing Functions:
• Processing functions vary greatly among bale processors, meaning producers should carefully consider the type of functions they need.  For example, some processors cannot spread heavy layers of bedding are limited in the spreading distance.   

• Feedbunk height is also another key consideration.  Some processors are design to reach high feedbunks and evenly distribute material over a fence to a Feedbunk on the other side, whereas others cannot.
• Regardless of size, all producers may want to consider a processor with the ability to add supplemental feed or nutrients to the processing material.  During periods where pastures are producing little nutrients this becomes a valuable tool. 

Power Supply Requirements:
• Most bale processors are PTO driven and horsepower requirements can range from 60 h.p. to 150 h.p.  Many small operations have limited power to operate the machines manufactures have now developed models to accommodate almost any size of tractor.  Skid   attached models are also manufactured allowing maneuverability for smaller confined areas and hydraulic power-driven systems.

Types of Material Handled
• Determining the type of material, the processor will handle in any operation is a key factor in deciding which model to choose.  Moisture content of the material you intend to process should be a major consideration as different units may process dry and/or wet material more effectively.  Make sure you understand the material handling capabilities of the unit you intend to purchase.

Ease of Operation
• Large, open material chambers, distribution chambers and rotors play a significant role in the operating ease of a processor.  Machines that allow for easy adjustments of the processing mechanisms offer more trouble-free processing; including, material feeding, processing speed and aggressiveness, length of cut, material distribution and other parts of the processing sequence are the best for controlling quality in the final product.

Speed of Processing
• Speed is another factor of consideration but is not as critical for a smaller operation as it is to large feed lots and cow herds.  An adjustable, aggressive processing mechanism and material feeder system with a large processing chamber ensures the quickest processing of all materials.  A large open distribution chamber also assists as it provides the least resistance to material flow.

Cost & Durability
• Price and durability are significant factors as well.  The cost of a bale processor will vary depending on adjustment capability, processing capability, materials handled, self-loading capability and extra accessories.  As with any equipment purchase a producer must base their decision on a compromise among features, capability and cost.   
Whether a bale processor is the right tool remains a decision based upon the producer’s individual operation. However these versatile machines continue to improve the efficiency and quality of feed allocation.