Willie Foster, a farm consultant operating out of Bloomington, Wisconsin, encourages his farmer clients to wrap high moisture large square bales to make "baleage". "It's one of the most palatable forages you can make," he insists. But he and his farmer customers found that unless they could chop or grind the big bales first, mixing them into a total mixed ration (TMR) was difficult. But Foster thinks most hay processors grind hay so fine that a lot of the fiber value is lost.
He decided there had to be a way to cut up the bales enough to get them into a TMR without pulverizing the stems.
After working on the problem for a couple of years, Foster designed a bale slicer that works on the principle of a log splitter. It'll slice up both dry hay and wrapped bales.
It's basically a box frame with a ram or plunger at one end and knives at the other. You put the bale in the cage and then force it through the knives with the plunger.
Making a working prototype wasn't a simple matter, though. Foster started with a cage made of 2 by 3-in. steel tubing and 4-in. angle iron. It measures 5 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide and 18 ft. long. At the back of the frame is a bale chamber. Bales are loaded into this chamber from the side with a skid-steer loader and bale spear.
Mounted vertically across the back of the frame are two stationary knives. "We started with regular knives like you'd find in a forage cutter, but they weren't long enough or heavy enough, so I had some bigger ones custom made," he says. The knives were made by Zenith Cutter, a Rockford, Illinois company that makes knives for forage harvesters. Foster's bale slicer knives are beveled on both sides. At the front of the cage is a plunger-style ram, which pushes the bale through the knives. A two-stage double-acting hydraulic cylinder, salvaged from a garbage truck, powers the ram. The face of the ram has slits in it, so it can push past the knives without causing damage.
He says if he cuts the plastic off the end of a bale and cuts the twine before slicing, the plastic and twine remains in the slicer chamber, so it's easy to collect it for disposal.
Foster wanted the bale slicer to be portable, so he mounted it on a dual axle trailer and added a used 45 hp Isuzu diesel engine to power a self-contained hydraulic system. The engine was salvaged from a pickup truck. He added a 15-gal. per minute hydraulic pump, valve and a 25-gal. reservoir, from Link Hydraulics, Dubuque, Iowa. The hydraulic system was overbuilt for this application, but since it's mounted on a skid with the engine Foster is able to use it to power a bale wrapper in the summer.
Foster does custom bale wrapping and slicing for his cattle customers, cutting both baleage and dry hay. "Once bales are sliced, it's much easier to use them in an auger-type feed mixer," he says. "And it makes hand feeding hay from big bales a lot easier, too."
He figures more than half of his cost was for the hydraulic cylinder. That doesn't include the cost of the engine and hydraulic pump.