The platform, 100 ft. long and 44 ft. wide, is designed to dry 6-ft. dia. "soft core" bales. It consists of a 44-ft. long plenum chamber with six 46-ft. long lateral tunnels that ex-tend off each side of it. Each lateral tunnel has seven 4-ft. sq. bale-drying holes in it that are screened over with corn crib wire to keep the bale's soft core from collapsing. Two fans blow air out either end of the plenum, creating a vacuum inside the plenum and the lateral tunnels. James uses a front-end loader equipped with a specially-designed "clam" loader to set freshly-harvested bales onto the on-edge 2 by 4's on-edge that form the perimeter of each hole. He puts a cap made out of 6-mil polyethylene across the top of each bale to protect it from rain and to pull air through the sides of the bales. Without the plastic cap on top, air would flow only through the soft core middle of each bale.
"I was fed up with the weather damage to my hay crop as it dried in the field," says James, who has been drying round bales for three years and feeding them to his 60 milk cows. "Artificial drying of round bales lets me beat the weather because I can cut hay earlier, at moisture contents up to 35%, without waiting for it to dry. The result is more leaves saved and higher quality hay. For example, during a period of rainy weather last fall, my neighbors had hay laying on the ground for a month before it was dry enough to bale. By then it was hardly worth as much as straw. I was able to bale my hay soon after it was cut."
James points out that if hay is valued at $80 per ton, a 5% increase in total harvested dry matter is worth $4 per ton. Also, the hay's higher protein content means less purchased protein is required to balance a ration.
It takes an average of 5 to 7 days to dry one batch of 30% moisture bales. "At first, we
ran the fan continuously regardless of the weather," says James. "However, we discovered that during wet weather the outer layers of the bales swell enough to close the air passages. Now we operate the fans during fair weather only and use a humidistat to automatically turn the fans on and off. It costs about $2 per ton for electricity to operate the fans. One 42-in. dia. fan is belt driven at 1,100 rpm. The other, a 26 in. dia. fan, is direct driven by a 3,500 rpm motor. Both fans move about the same volume of
The plenum and lateral tunnels, built from pressure-treated lumber, are both 4 ft. wide. However, the plenum is 4 ft. deep while the lateral tunnels are just 6-in. deep. The lateral tunnels slope to one side so the plastic on top of the bales sheds water. Soil overlaid by stone is banked against the sides of the lateral tunnels to prevent air loss. James notes that it's important to seal all joints in the wood tunnels with silicon caulk to pre-vent air leaks
There are a total of 84 bale-drying holes. James can dry 84 bales at once or double-stack the bales to dry 168 at a time. He can also dry a smaller batch of bales by shutting down a portion of the plenum with a built-in baffle. "I can move the baffle anywhere within the plenum to shut off any lateral tunnel or use plastic fertilizer bags to block individual holes," says James.
The 4-ft. sq. holes are spaced 32 in. apart on each lateral tunnel. "If I could do it over, I'd space the holes furtherapart," says James. "I designed the holes for 6-ft. dia. bales, but my New Idea baler really makes 6 112-ft. bales. Asaresult, the bales sometimes touch each other, reducing air movement and making it hard to get the plastic caps on." James has had some trouble double stacking bales of third cut hay. "On some bales a layer of mold develops between the bales. The reason for the mold is that third cut hay is fine and the bales get very dense, so airflow is restricted. However, there's no problem double st
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