Livestock farmers must make plans to keep their animals healthy and reproducing through the lean months. One way is to make hay bales.
If those expensive balers one sees on farming shows are not for you, the smallscale farmers from the Mahlathini Development Foundation in Bergville might have the answer.
They use a hand-operated hay baler to preserve natural grasses for winter feed. Veld grass is mowed with a brush cutter and left to dry in the sun for a few days. Once dried, it’s loaded into the box baler and compacted into bales using a lever and footplate.
These farmers are making 10 to 50 baleseach. These bales are especially important for farmers in the sourveld, where the value of grazing is low in winter. They feed their livestock the hay bales, as well as pre-mixed supplements and molasses. These are often the difference between life and death, and are enough to sustain up to three lactating cows throughout winter.
Box baling can also be used for stover from maize and cover crops such as cowpeas, beans, Dolichos (Lab-Lab) and teff. The advantage of making bales is that they can be moved and stored more easily than loose grass. And if farmers stockpile more bales than they need, they can be sold or kept on hand as insurance for drought or excessively wet weather.
Making bales is time-consuming and laborious – but when your livestock are hungry, you’ll be grateful that you made hay while the sun was shining!
HOW TO MAKE A BOX BALER
■ If you want to make your own hand-operated box baler, download a plan here: www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/the-story-of-a-hand-hay-baler
■ You can build a sturdy baling box using materials such as a large plastic crate, or planks of wood. A large box should measure about 100cm L x 50cm W x 40cm H; while a small box should be about 75cm L x 50cm W x 40cm H.
■ First lay baling rope in a grid pattern across the inside of the box. Grass will require a tighter grid to secure it than material like maize stover.
■ After laying the rope, fill the box with the baling material and compress it as tightly as possible. Compacting can be done by stomping on the material with your feet; or by building a lever and footplate plunger. The plunger system will achieve a firmer compaction.
■ Once filled and compressed to capacity, tie the baling rope, set the box on its side, and push the bale out.
HOW TO MAKE A DRUM BALER
■ Another option is to use a modified steel drum. Remove the top (or bottom) of the drum and cut the container in half down the middle, lengthwise. You should now have two equal, semi-cylindrical halves.
■ Put these halves back together by welding two hinges along one of the seams.
■ The open side now needs to be fitted with clamps so it can be fastened together. Cut two sets of tabs from scrap iron and weld them onto the edges of the open seam. Screw clamps onto the tabs so that the facing surfaces can be clamped together.
■ Make an X-shaped configuration using planks of wood or metal. This device should fit into the base of the drum. Hammer a hook or a bent nail into the outer end of all four planks.
■ To use the baler, clamp the sides of the drum together. Cut two long lengths of baling rope and drape them down into the barrel and along an arm of the X. The ropes must crisscross each other in the centre of the X. Secure the string using the hooks or bent nails at the bottom of the barrel; and drape the cut ends over the side of the drum. To prevent these strings from falling into the barrel, fasten them loosely to a band of baling rope running around the outside of the barrel.
■ Pack the barrel with hay and jump inside the barrel to compact the hay with your feet. Tie each length of twine to form a handle, then remove the clamps, open the barrel, and pull out your bale.