Dear Phil and Sharon,
I’m finally getting a chance to write a long overdue review of the haying equipment that my wife and I purchased from you last spring. As you know, we purchased several pieces including a drum mower, baler, gyro rake (rake/tedder), bale wrapper, and a fertilizer/seed spreader, along with some other incidental items. We jumped head first into haymaking. Although I have been a dairy feed nutritionist for more than 25 years, and have reviewed tens of thousands of forage analyses, I have never actually made my own hay, until now. It’s one thing to make recommendations on fertility, time to cut, storage, etc., but quite another to actually harvest it yourself. All things considered, and in spite of a wet rainy season, we did very well, with very little problems. We got three cuttings and I am quite confident on a normal year, we wouldn’t have any problem getting four. For the first time, instead of purchasing hay, we have been feeding our cattle hay that was made by us, off of our own land, and it is very rewarding. We currently have a small cow/calf beef farm. So with that, I will do a short review of each implement.
SFI Drum Mower: DM-2555 (55 inch cut)
Because I’m cropping relatively small pieces of land, and find myself in relatively tight spots, I opted for the smallest of the drum mowers. This mower is absolutely bomb proof. It is very ruggedly made and works flawlessly. I operate it with a 35 HP New Holland 1520. The only issue I’ve had is I am not able to carry it high enough on the 3pt. hitch as I’d like to during transportation, but I think that maybe more of a 3pt. hitch issue, than a mower flaw. Because I live on Lake Champlain, the high wind raises havoc with the canopy. The mower rides the contour of the ground beautifully and it cuts very smooth and evenly. Because it’s a drum mower, and very ruggedly made, it is almost like a brush hog. I have one 2 acre piece that I cleared over 100 trees off of, and nailing stumps have no ill effect on the little beast. The trip mechanism works perfectly and I can’t say enough good about this piece of equipment.
Pound for pound, this is probably the most expensive piece of equipment we purchased, and I couldn’t imagine doing the job without it. It switches between tedder and rake in mere seconds. It is extremely ruggedly made and makes the perfect sized windrow for our compact baler. The Gyro Rake doesn’t have any negatives. I strongly recommend, if someone is using a compact baler, that they purchase this piece of equipment. Granted, it is not cheap, but it offers a tremendous return on investment, just for aggravation reduction alone. Like the drum mower, this thing is built to last. The quality far exceeds what my expectations were.
MRB850TW Compact Baler
The first thing that stands out when you un-package the baler, is how heavy made it is. It has heavy steel in all the right places and is extremely well made. Set up takes very little time, basically attaching the wheels and threading the baler twine. We went with the twine wrap baler because we plastic wrap all of our bales; it is a matter of cost. The twine wrap baler is a couple thousand dollars cheaper than the net wrap baler, and you can purchase twine at every farm store. If we didn’t plastic wrap our bales, we probably would have purchased the net wrap baler. The baler does very well, if you don’t push it too hard. I only plugged it once, and that was because I was going too fast in a very heavy windrow. The Gyro Rake makes a windrow ideally sized for this baler. I did have a hiccup when I first started baling; it was not threading properly. As it turned out, the gear box that feeds the twine, didn’t have oil in it. One of the questions that I had in my mind while making the decision to purchase this equipment from 2,500 miles away (we are in Northern Vermont), was service. In the event that I had a problem, would I get service? I can tell you that I feel that Phil and Sharon gave us better service over the phone than if I had purchased the equipment just a few miles away. Phil’s knowledge of the equipment is absolutely superior, and trouble-shooting was easily done over the phone. Since the first half a dozen bales, I have had no problems what so ever. The baler is very well made and after three cuttings, the internal rollers show virtually no wear. The baler comes with a beeper which sounds off when it is time to pull the cord, which initiates the twine wrap. At some point, the twine wrapped around the beeper and broke it off. I probably won’t replace it because it is unnecessary. There is an indicator bar that comes up when the bale is nearing the wrap stage; and when the twine arm drops, it makes an unmistakable sound, which lets you know the baler is full and it is wrapping the bale with twine. The baler comes with sheer bolts in the event that you feed it too rapidly, it will break the sheer bolt, instead of causing harm to the baler. I broke a few and it is not a big deal to line it up and screw a new one in. It comes with the tools to do so. There is a learning curve with the baler, but all things considered, it is pretty simple to operate.
We decided to purchase the bale wrapper for two reasons. Being a weekend warrior, I don’t always have time to dry my hay completely. I like to cut it, the next day ted and rake it, and bale. Some of our hay is dry and some is a little too wet; but the other factor is that we do not have a good place to store our hay. It is stored outdoors, exposed to the elements. It is a long snowy, sometimes wet winter here in Northern Vermont. This SFI bale wrapper is a little marvel. It really works well. One of the remarkable things about this piece of equipment is how little gas it uses. I can wrap several hundred bales on less than a tank of gas and I wrap the maximum amount of wraps, four, to insure a tight package that lasts throughout the winter. On the maximum setting, meaning four wraps, I can do 33 bales on a spool of plastic wrap. If I had any criticism toward the wrapper, it would be the wheels. I would prefer that they were pneumatic wheels, instead of the thin plastic wheels that it comes with. Other than that, it is very well made and I haven’t had any problems with it what so ever. I put it in the bucket of my tractor and move it from field to field. It adds a lot of extra work to hay making, but in the end I have very high quality, protected bales.
All in all, I’ve tried to be as subjective as I possibly can. We have many other types of equipment on our farm, and the SFI hay making machinery is as good, or better, than any of it. I realize I have very few negatives towards any of the SFI implements, and that is because there aren’t any. From start to finish, working with Phil and Sharon was a pleasurable experience. They are very professional and knowledgeable. The bottom line is, whenever contemplating a purchase, I ask myself “Would I buy it again?”, and with all of these pieces, the answer is absolutely…YES.
I have attached an analysis of our hay. As you can see, it is not too shabby for what was fallow grass fields.
Bob and Krista Grim
The Emerald 40 Farm
I would advise that any person who bought land as an investment should strongly consider purchasing a mini round baler from Small Farm Innovations (SFI). Let me explain how I came up with this conclusion and how it worked out for me.
In December of 2010 land prices were down and interest rates were low, so I purchased 13 acres in [Mid-Atlantic region] as an investment. I needed to buy a tractor and a mower in order to maintain the property regardless of any other decision. I was able to get a 24 HP tractor and a disc mower for a reasonable cost. I determined that if I could sell hay, then I can depreciate the tractor and mower, get a lower property tax, write off the interest on the loan for the property and of course sell the hay itself. Based on my particular set of circumstances, I determined that the mini-round baler would pay for itself in approximately three years. Your own situation will vary, so I took the liberty of attaching an Excel Spreadsheet to enable you to evaluate your particular set of circumstances.
Well, it is now 2013, so let me tell you how all of this worked out:
The mini round baler was an excellent choice. My property has a lot of hills (some of them steep) and my 24 HP tractor handles that baler with no problem whatsoever. By selecting the mini-round baler, I was able to get a smaller and less expensive tractor.
I am a chemical engineer and have no experience with farm equipment. The learning curve for operation and maintenance of the baler is quite shallow, and as far as I can tell, that baler is essentially bullet proof.
Did I tell you that I had no experience with farm equipment? This is where SFI separates themselves from everyone else. SFI delivered my farm equipment and took the time to go over its operation. On the first day that I cut hay, I had to call SFI three times. On every occasion, he was extremely helpful and solved the problem over the phone. I KNOW that some of my questions were probably stupid, but SFI always treated me respectfully and with patience. SFI has a wealth of knowledge and their ability to walk you through your situation over the phone is nothing short of amazing.
Did everything work out according to plan? Well of course not. It turns out that I overestimated what I could charge for the hay. Also, did you know that weather forecasters are not perfect? I have lost hay cuttings due to rain coming in before I could get it to dry out. It also turns out that Uncle Sam decided to nail me with an alternative minimum tax, so it looks like it will take me about four and a half years instead of three for the baler to pay for itself.
How did SFI work out? Better than you could ever ask for. I have sent SFI dozens of emails and have always received their expertise with very prompt replies. Over the past three years, I have come to completely trust and rely on SFI. To illustrate the point, I decided to upgrade my tractor. The first call I made was to SFI and I purchased my tractor from them sight unseen. Under normal circumstances, I would never consider this, but SFI has earned my loyalty and trust.
I hope that this helps you in your decisions.
In April 2011, we purchased a TRB910 Middle Roll Baler, a DM-3575 mower, and a BEFCO 4-wheel rake from Phil and Sharon at Small Farm Innovations. Now after three hay seasons and well over 500 bales, I’m happy to write this testimonial as to how the equipment has performed, but more importantly, how Phil and Sharon have been there for us after the purchase was over.
The equipment is very easy to operate – and this from someone who has never mowed, raked, or baled hay before. Now we’re cutting our seven-acre hay fields, our neighbor’s 6 ½ acre field and another neighbor’s 12-acre field. The equipment is easy to set up, and with a little practice produces some wonderful bales that are well formed, densely packed, and easy to transport. We average about 10-12 250-275 pound bales per acre (from brome and prairie grass hay fields) and can load three into the back of our pickup truck. One person can easily roll them to where ever you need them, and they tip upright easily. We use a 10-foot 2x10 as a ramp to stack them double high in our hay loft.
The equipment is also easy to maintain. Everything is either out in the open or easily accessible and maintenance takes around 30 minutes to clean and maintain each piece of equipment. The only time I’ve had to repair anything is when a U-joint broke on the baler’s PTO shaft. I found a replacement at a local implement store and was back in business within a few hours.
As good as it is to operate and maintain – and as outstanding as the results are, the best part of this equipment has been the support we’ve received from Phil and Sharon. Not only did Phil deliver the equipment, he also spent a few hours giving us detailed instruction how to set it up and operate. We cut and baled three bales the day the equipment arrived and there’s nothing like hands-on instruction to teach you how to work everything. And during the first few seasons, I called Phil a few times when I got stuck; mostly ‘How do I…?’ questions. No matter what they’re doing, they always have time to help me and that means a lot.
If you’re looking for smaller scale hay equipment, I honestly don’t believe you can beat Small Farm Innovations in either value for your cost, or in what this equipment will do for you.
We had a fine day yesterday baling my upper field. The '850 baler
worked great and had no problems to speak of at all. No twine
misfeeds, no clogs, and no odd noises either. My average cycle time
was just under one minute per bale. From the time we started baling
to when we got the last of 68 bales into the barn was a few minutes
over two and 1/2 hours. We finished a couple hours before dark and as
I write this at 7:30 AM on Saturday morning, we are having a lovely
gentle rain that will be just the thing to get the upper field going
The only problem the we had was 3 or 4 bales that took off and rolled down the hill. This field was nothing but hillside and I have not quite mastered the knack dropping the bale so it comes to rest and stays put. Every now and again, one will go on walkabout and make a break for it and about half the time it is in the direction of unwinding the bale.
I still have to figure out how best to lay my windrows around the contours of the land and how best to handle the ends. It's an interesting 3D problem and will take some experimenting. I spent a lot of time tedding and experimenting with techniques of getting the dense orchard grass and clover to separate and dry properly. It seems to have paid off, because the the moisture content of the hay was measured at 14.5%, using the microwave method. I kept cooking until the weight was stable and am confident of the result. Not too bad. :-)
Phil, I really appreciate all your help. A good mentor makes all the difference in learning the ropes with something as complex as haymaking. I will return the favor as I can and learn things that may be helpful to you and others.
I finally got to do a test mow today as well. Awesome mower!!! Cuts like a hot knife through butter AND put it wind rows. I am thoroughly impressed. Can’t wait to do the rest of my pastures when they get ready. Pix below are of some heavy Bermuda I cut today. Mower was flawless and overall just Awesome!
Thank you for your patience on the phone helping us set up the SFI 2555 mower. We must have called you 3 times that morning. The second time we used it we finally got everything adjusted just right for a perfect mow. The field was cut smoothly at a uniform 2" using a John Deere 2720. The alfalfa and grass was 30" but the mower took no notice. We are delighted to be able to cut our small hay field using our small tractor.
Phil this baler is the best investment I have made... I have lots of customers who love these bales. Horse owners as well as cattle and even Buffalo owners. The waste is very minimal and the machine never misses a bale unless it is operator era. I have had some people ask me if you were going to put a net wrap system out for this machine? I have allot of Interest from farmers in are area with what other machinery this company makes and if they also make full size balers? but back to mine I wouldn't trade for anything other than a newer model of this one. You asked me once about baling. A smaller bale at the end of a field I have had a lot more practice with this year. just stop the tractor with the engine rpm up open the tying side of the baler trip the arm release and turn the plastic dial slowly until it starts moving on its own close the door get back on the tractor and eject the bale when it is done tying. If I can help you in any way please let me know. Look forward to seeing me on your web site.
To: Any small rancher or farmer considering purchasing products from Small Farm Innovations
Two years ago my wife and I purchased a 38.5 acre hay farm/ranch in Lee County, 60 miles east of Austin Texas. The property is mostly pasture land with pecan trees along the fence lines. There is a house, horse barn, two small stock tanks, a corral, and creeks on three sides. The previous owner raised hay and horses. At one time we believe that the pastures were 100% Coastal Bermudagrass but they had declined to about 30% due to poor care. We are serious about raising high quality hay for a profit. With the help of family members, we are less than a year away from achieving that goal despite two years of extreme drought in Central Texas. My stepson recently completed a Private Applicator License course so that we can control weeds in our pastures.
The single biggest problem we have encountered has been getting the hay cut in a timely manner. We have attempted to partner with three different hay-balers who said they wanted our business but were never there for us when we needed them. The bigger ranches took priority over a small one, so that no grass was ever cut for us even at premium prices. We struggled with this problem for eighteen months until we connected with Phil Livengood at Small Farm Innovations (SFI).
Three weeks after contacting SFI, we were selling our own hay. We purchased
an IHI 900 series 3x3 round hay baler, a DM 3065 hay cutter, a 4-wheel rake,
and sprayer for use in controlling weeds. All of these work perfectly when
connected to our 32 horsepower Kubota tractor, although we will not use the
sprayer until the spring of 2010. Phil Livengood personally walked us
through the steps on how to use each piece of equipment and followed up
daily on how we were doing. We had never done any baling before and were
totally newcomers to the equipment. The rake stopped us initially, but it
took Phil just five minutes to get us back in operation -- we had not set
the rake low enough to the ground to gather hay. The 3x3 baler really is a
fine machine and had only one problem that we caused. On the third bale, the
driver had been distracted by a family member and he ejected the bale before
the twine was cut. Of course the twine trailed out into field just like Phil
had said it would. Fortunately, there were others around to stop the driver from continuing and making a mess of things. The string was then manually cut and after checking out the rest of the equipment, we were back in operation within 10 minutes. There were no other issues and everything worked flawlessly. We baled the rest of the 88 bales with no other problems.
My stepson drove the tractor and remarks how easy the operation was. Since
Phil had ridden with him on his initial baling operation and gave some very
good pointers, he was able to quickly pick up knowledge he would need to
know. He did have to construct a plastic shield on the side of the tractor,
to protect him from flying debris kicked up by the hay cutter due to the
poor quality of our fields at this time, but that was the only problem he noted. Phil's recommendation that you rake all of your hay windrows in a straight line is good advice. Sometimes you can get off center if you are driving on a curve and you will not pick up as much hay.
Initially we were concerned about how the smaller 3x3 bales would be accepted by our customers. To date we haven't had any trouble with anyone not liking the 3x3 bales. The feedback we are getting is that the smaller bales are easier to transport and move around, one person can roll a bale around and can get three to four bales in a truck. Horse people also notice these are better to put one out that will last several days as opposed to putting out a square bale almost every day.
The decision to buy the 3x3 baler and other smaller than normal equipment was not easy because it went against the advice of people we believed to be knowledgeable in regards to ranching and farming in our area. Now that we have the equipment, we wonder why we waited so long. Intuitively we knew this was the correct direction for us or for any other small rancher. We have seen use of smaller equipment like this on small farms in China, Japan, Israel, Turkey and Europe.
What all the major tractor suppliers kept telling us repeatedly was that we needed a much larger tractor and baler and that our farm was too small to justify such a purchase. The recommendation was always to stay with a smaller tractor and get an independent baler to cut and bale. Prior to meeting with Phil for the first time we visited with another major tractor supplier who again told us they could sell us what we needed for ~$70,000 but the sales person recommended we contact a baler friend of his instead. The sales person also told us our 32 horse tractor would not lift a large bale onto a trailer. He said that hay purchasers would expect us to load the hay onto a trailer or a truck in the case of a heavy duty long-bed. He explained that we would need a different tractor which his company could supply for ~$50,000.
Since the 3x3 bales weigh 450 to 500 pounds and not 1500 to 2000 pounds, we only had to buy a bolt-on front spear for the front loader of our tractor for less than $200 which worked out great! We also purchased a rear three-point spear so we can carry two bales a one time when transporting bales from the field to our storage location. We purchased a heavy duty tarp set up to protect the hay plus stakes to tie it down.
Easy access panels to gears/chains on the baler make it very easy to maintain. We recently completed winterizing all of our new equipment. We were able to do this with in a minimal amount of effort.
If you are considering purchasing a 900 series baler and other implements from Phil Livengood at Small Farm Innovations, then please take our word based on our personal experience, that we highly recommend Phil and his company. We highly recommend the 900 series baler and his other farm implements. You will love them.
Lexington, Texas USA
My MRB 855 is a real hay hog with properly cured hay and windrows sized as per manufacturer's recommendations. I can bale each cutting in short order. It is easy to hook-up, operate, and maintain. My operation is small at 4.5 acres of orchard grass for my wife's horses, with approximately 1000 bales annually. The bales are sized just right for easy handling by my wife and I. The service provided by Phil Livengood after the sell was first-class. Phil is courteous, friendly, knowledgeable, and most helpful about any aspect of owning and operating this baler. I am pleased with the purchase of the MRB 855, especially with the service provided by Mr. Livengood. I would be happy to speak anyone interested in purchasing this machine. My cell number is 575-838-6227.
Clint Richardson, PhD
PE Associate Professor Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering New Mexico Tech Socorro, New Mexico