(Originally posted on my journal on September 15th, 2009)
It's been busy (as usual) the last few days; The sort of days when you work from Sun Up to Sun Down, and afterwards you're just too tired to do much of anything else. Saturday was the Kidling's 4-H Achievement Day, and that went over very well. The kids in the group created several projects including 3 steel fire-pits, a steel & glass table, a basket-ball pole & hoop, and the Kidling's trailer.
Now, of course I'm biased, but I think the kidling's trailer was one of the best projects; It was certainly one of the more complicated ones, comprising not only of the trailer frame, but the axle, wheels, mounts, etc. Granted he had some help from the instructor and myself, but it's quite a project for a 12-year-old! The steel-and-glass table and the B-Ball net were also complicated assemblies, given the number of parts that needed to be measured, cut, and assembled. The fire-pits were pretty awesome, but very simple projects; They're basically just rolled steel, welded together along a seam. What makes them interesting is the custom artwork that was cut into each one, but that artwork was done by a professional shop (kinda like the sort of thing tugrik does) rather than by the kids themselves. Still, very attractive and functional bits of yard-furniture, and one of them was even propped up on old horseshoes which was an excellent finishing touch! I'll post some pictures later, once I get them off the camera.
After the activities, trixstir and the Kidling stayed in town (Trixstir to run the bowling alley, the kidling to goof off) while I headed back to the farm to get some work done. I wanted to get on with the hay-baling before the weather turned, but I needed to make sure that the baler was up to the task. It took me longer than I had expected it to (it always does, for some reason!) but I checked out the baler from one end to the other, making sure that everything was working correctly. I had to replace a shear-bolt on the flywheel, but other than that everything was pretty much ready-to-go. It was dark by the time I finished, so the baling itself would have to wait until the next day.
The next day (Sunday), the weather wasn't looking promising. Despite calls for clear skies, the morning started off cold and grey; low clouds and light fog hung over everything, and it looked like it was going to rain at any time. Trixstir and I spent the morning setting up the new shelves in the shop, and hoping that the weather would improve. Thankfully by Noon the Sun finally came out, and it turned out to be a very good day for working outside.
I had prepared the baler (a Massey-Ferguson 124) with four rolls of twine, and preset the knotters according to the instructions in the Owner's Manual. There was little else to do next, other than to take it out to the fields and hope for the best.
Hay-balers are not exactly the quietest machines around. There's a lot of moving parts, and even when they're well-lubricated there's a lot of thumping and banging from all of them working together. The timing has to be pretty precise; there are the packer forks, the cutter blade, and the needles (2) which all have to work together without jamming into one another. The packer forks basically shove the hay into the bale-chamber where the cutter-blade and ram are pistoning back-and-forth, chopping the hay and mashing it into the shape of the bale. From what I could tell, it was the motion of this enormous ram and the attached blade that accounted for most of the noise and movement of the machine.
Everything seemed to be working OK as I started off, but very quickly Trixstir was waving at me to stop; something wasn't right! The first bale had come out of the machine, but jammed up and was coming apart in the ramp on the Automatic Stooker. (The AS collects six bales at a time from the baler, then automatically drops them into a pyramid-shaped pile called a "Stook." In theory, the bales should be laying on their edges, minimizing the amount of contact the with ground and thus reducing the chances of them getting damp and spoiled. It's purely driven by weights and balances, there are no power devices on it at all!) For some reason, the bale-strings were too loose, though the knotters had tied the knots correctly. We tried adjusting the tension on the strings, and that helped a little, but the biggest problem was that we couldn't feed hay into the machine fast enough!
Due to the poor growing conditions this year, there just wasn't much grass to be cut and baled, and the machine was operating faster than hay could be fed into it. The only way around that problem is to drive faster, and thus shove more hay through the machine. Another option at the time of swathing would have been to adjust the swather (if possible) to make fewer, but larger swaths (or windrows) to combat this problem. Once we understood what the problem was, we were able to get better results. Still, we wound up with some bales that were far too long, and some that were incredibly short! Hopefully next year we'll have a better crop and thus be able to produce more uniform bales. Ironically, while in many places the crop was too thin to produce proper bales, in some areas it was so thick that the machine kept getting bogged down and I had to stop it lest something break! In those areas, I had to set the pick-up a little higher, and drive the tractor more slowly to give the baler time to digest the huge volumes of grass moving into it.
Out in the main (East) field, the baler performed much better. I had more room to manouver, and the amount of grass was fairly consistant and easier to bale. The trickiest part was just trying to keep the baler on course, particularly on the corners; The swather is able to cut a much tighter turn than the baler can, so it's not always possible (let alone easy!) to keep everything on course. You can wind up with a bit of a stiff neck from constantly having to look back behind you to see what's happening. I can see why those little handle-balls on the steering-wheel are so popular, and I think I might need to get one before next season!
While the baler itself performed very well, the Stooker was more trouble than it was worth. It came with the baler when I bought it, but I think I'll be disconnecting it in the future. We have an automatic bale-wagon anyway, so the stooker is actually of little use to us since we'd have to take the stooks apart for the bale-wagon to be able to pick up the bales anyway. The bales have to be laying on their sides for the bale-wagon to pick them up though, so you either need a quarter-turn bale chute on your baler, or a Kidling following behind you turning the bales over. This was one of Trixstir's jobs as a kid, and I think the Kidling should be allowed to share in such a great experince! ;)
In the end, we got 87 bales of hay. At least, that's what the bale-counter in the machine says, but in reality there will be a bit less than that since a few of the first ones fell apart. Normally, there would have been a lot more, but again, this was a very bad year for production. Our east field was only at about 1/3 of last year's height. Between the hay we're buying from a neighbour, and our own hay, we've got enough to last about one year so I think we'll be OK. Here's hoping for a better crop next year! Now I just need to clean the last of the hay out of the baler, and prepare it for storage over the winter.