Tony Hansen with John Deere answers farmers questions following his presentation Feb. 21 at Alfalfa U in Dodge City, Kansas. Hansen and Josh Beam detailed baler settings to optimize for producing quality alfalfa. Alfalfa U is sponsored by Alforex Seeds, John Deere and High Plains Journal. (Journal photo by Kylene Scott.)

Josh Beam and Tony Hansen detailed a few ways to make the most out of bale settings when it comes to baling alfalfa. The pair from John Deere spoke at the Alfalfa U event in Dodge City, Kansas. Alfalfa U is sponsored by Alforex Seeds, John Deere and High Plains Journal.

Hansen discussed the finer points of square balers and stressed the importance of setting the pickup height appropriately. 

“If we’re baling over irrigation tracks, pivot tracks, things like that, you can really dig those teeth into the ground,” Hansen said. “Just get them up higher.”

Hansen said that’s one of the main settings that needs to be adjusted when it comes to pickup.

“Generally people want to pick up pretty heavy on the ground, but you can make it lighter,” he said.

Adjusting the pickup flow helps, especially if there’s pivot engage wheels.

“Pivot engage wheels are nice especially for guys that don’t have huge pivots,” Hansen said. “They work really well for those short rows where we’re turning a lot.” 

Having the pivot engage wheels reduces tracks in the hayfield. The same goes for the fixed gate wheels. 

A new feature in the John Deere One Series baler is a roller baffle. This feature sandwiches the crop down so the baler can get it where it needs to be.

“If we’re in a really heavy alfalfa windrow or something really light like straw, it’s really important that the roller baffle in the compressor app behind it is riding right on top of the windrow,” Hansen said.

There’s really no setting to adjust, just be aware of the spring that rides on top of the crop mat. A square baler is not nearly as picky about the windrow as the round baler is. Hansen said basically all colors of balers do the same thing when it comes to pickups and augers. 

“All it’s doing is funneling that windrow down to a 4-foot width,” Hansen said.

But when it comes to the free chambers, all colors of balers designs are not equal. The John Deere has its own version. 

“What our feeder fork is doing is pulling that crop away from the rotor,” Hansen said. “So we’re pulling that crop away as fast as we can from that rotor.”

There’s two different methods for this. The one-to-one mode is more like a direct feed. 

“So what that means is, for every one flake of hay, you’re doing one under stroke,” Hansen said. “Every time the plunger comes ahead, we’re throwing hay into it. You’re creating that flake.

With a direct feed, it goes straight from the windrow to the bale. The thickness of the layers depend on how fast or slow the baler was going. These balers also have measuring plates that help the flakes remain uniform. 

“So, now, it doesn’t matter if your windrows are huge, small or somewhere between —it’s a nice square bale every time,” Hansen said. “Density really is not that affected by the three compression chamber.”

Round bales

Beam later discussed the important settings on round balers. In order to do the job right on the first try, look to the tractor first. Make sure the tractor tires—the front wheels in particular—are at the widest setting possible to prevent running over the windrow.

“You do have to watch so you don’t get it past the overall width because when you turn that wheel it will actually hit the front of the baler,” Beam said. “You’ve got to manage your way through that.”

Beam also said, to make sure the draw bar height is set correctly as it can be adjusted accordingly on the baler.

What about power take-off speed? How fast should it run? Beam suggested around 900 revolutions per minute. 

“Why do you run it slower?” Beam said. “Saves leaves, right. It’s not the speed that rolls with the density. The density comes from how tightly you pack the sides of the bale as you’re running through the field. The more you pack the side sheet on either side creates the density inside that bale.” 

Rolling evenly over the windrow packages the hay nicely. Running the tractor slower to match the horsepower it has helps conserve not only energy but also hay quality. 

“As long as I’ve got enough ponies to handle the fills and slugs when I was in a gear up and throttle down it’ll save a lot of fuel and save a lot of leaves,” Beam said.

The rake has to match the baler. 

“It doesn’t do much good to go out and try to pull three windrows if the rake’s not wide enough to actually get those three windrows pulled together,” Beam said. “Then when you think about how wide of a windrow we want, make the windrow half the width of our bale chamber or the full width of our bale chamber.”

Somewhere in between doesn’t work. Having a 2-foot-wide windrow on a 4-foot wide baler ends up being “pretty tough.” 

Beam said it’s tough to get them that tight. “That completely dictates the shape of the bale,” he said. 

If your windrow is shaped like a big barrel, your bales will come out barrel shaped.

If the windrow is lopsided, bales will come out lopsided. If the windrow is square, short and flat on top, bales come out that way too.

“You still want to try to get that windrow as big as you possibly can as that means  you make fewer trips,” Beam said. “Less times up and back.” 

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.