You probably recognize the star implements of Midwest crop production: planters and combines. But what’s that boxy-looking thing that shows up behind tractors in mid-summer? If you get a chance to see it in action, it becomes obvious soon enough: it’s a round baler.
How are round balers used?
As the name suggests, round balers are used to make large, round bales of hay or straw. Hay is a kind of livestock feed made up of dried, compressed forage plants like alfalfa, clover, or timothy. Straw is the stems of small grain crops like wheat or oats. It is used for bedding or as a component of cattle feed.
Why round bales?
Small “square” (actually rectangular) bales are handy for farms with horses or smaller numbers of livestock. Large square bales are often utilized on farms with more livestock. They can be stored tightly because of their shape, but cannot be left outdoors.
Large round bales are efficient for larger livestock farms. The hay or straw is packed much more tightly than small square bales, and the round shape means they shed rain while in the field or if stored outdoors.
How do they work?
A round baler is pulled behind a tractor through a field of hay or straw that has been cut and raked into windrows. As the baler moves, a pickup mechanism on the front of the machine pulls the hay or straw into the machine.
Inside the baler, a series of rollers and belts tightly roll the plant material. The bale gets larger and larger as more hay or straw enters the machine. When the bale reaches the desired size (5’ x 6’ avg.), a mechanism triggers a process which wraps the bale in twine or mesh netting.
Once the bale is wrapped, the baler opens up, and the finished bale rolls out the back of the machine.
A baler is powered by a power take-off (PTO) shaft from the tractor which pulls it. Newer balers have a monitor which is mounted in the tractor cab. This allows the farmer to monitor moisture content, bale weight, and more.