Much like the transitions other ranchers and farmers have experienced over the past 50-plus years, our evolution with hay handling here in rural Idaho has been a transition from loose hay, to small square bales, and now large round and square bales. Each transition was made with an attempt to increase efficiency and reduce waste and cost. These transitions required a new machine or implement to handle the hay during transportation and feeding. Initially we resisted the move to large bales because our tractors and loaders were not big enough to handle them.
One winter we could not locate small square straw bales for bedding and were forced to buy 4x4x8-bale straw. At that time we realized we would have to catch up with the large bale movement or continue to have difficulty locating, and affording, hay and straw that our small operation could not produce.
With the advice of a local metal fabricator, Bob Minor, owner of Minor Irrigation Parts and Service near Baker, Idaho, we began building our own bale-spear hay heads.
“Even today, factory-built heads are often not built heavy enough for what we expect of them,” says Minor. “Of the 30-plus heads that I have built over the past 28 years, not one has come back for repairs on the frame. I have had to replace broken spears for people over the years, but never repaired the frame itself.”
Minor builds frames out of 4×4″ 250 tubing (1/4-inch wall thickness) or 4×6″ 250 tubing (1/4-inch wall thickness) for the bottom beam and basic frame. He says he can get away with 188 (3/16-inch wall thickness) for the outside vertical and top beams, but it is best to use the heavier wall for all of the main load-bearing portions of the frame.
But as some producers learned, they don’t always have to work with all-new material. “We built our first bale spear from an old automobile hoist out of a service garage,” says Lynn Thomas, owner of Sky Range Ranch, near Salmon, Idaho. “The lift was going to be scrapped and we picked it up cheap.” The lift was built from two parallel six-inch heavy-duty I-beams about 14 feet long with a rectangular central core two feet by six feet long.
To build the unit, they cut the I-beams away from the main body of the hoist frame, used the main body as the central portion of the bale head, welded one of the extra pieces of I-beam across the bottom to serve as the receiver beam for the spears, and used two more pieces to build the vertical extensions to prevent the top bale, when carrying two at a time, from tipping back onto the hood or cab of the tractor.
Determine size needed
As you begin the project of building a bale-spear hay head, know what type of bales you will be handling and how many at one time. A head wider than the bale causes problems when reaching across a truck or trailer when loading or unloading. The head can grab the bales adjacent to the one you are handling. The five-foot head is narrow enough to work well for six-foot round bales and tall enough to carry two 4x4x8 big square bales.
Once you have an idea what size/weight bales to be handled, determine what length of bale spear you will need, and how many. The 49-inch spear is a standard for handling large round and square bales. If you plan to handle 3x3x8 bales exclusively, you can use a 39-inch spear. You can carry one 4x4x8 bale with 39-inch spears, but it is not advisable to carry more than one as the short spears will cut up through the bottom bale, causing you to drop the load.
Install enough spears to safely carry the heaviest expected load. Some manufactured bale-spear heads come with only two spears. This is can cause harm to you or your tractor if one spear breaks. The load will shift and fall. For most large-bale applications, a minimum or four spears is recommended, and in cases of continuous handling of multiple heavy 4x4x8 bales, five spears is considered more secure and reliable. Bale spears and the weld-in sleeves to mount the spears into the bottom beam of the loader head are available at most farm supply stores and implement dealers.
Lay out and build the outer frame for the bale head before installing the spears. Once you have squared and welded the outer frame of the head, measure and mark the locations for the holes for the receiver sleeves equal distance from one another. Mark a clean two-inch circle for each sleeve. The sleeve is slightly less than two inches. Cut right on the line and this will give you enough gap to easily insert the sleeve, allowing you room to square up the spears and give you a void for good weld penetration.
Next, determine the location for the two vertical load-bearing frame members where your loader arms and tilt cylinders will connect to the hay head. Measure the width of your loader arms and tilt cylinders. Weld these members in place.
Today, quick-attach kits are available for all major loaders. It is worth the time and money to use this system to attach your loader if you anticipate switching from the hay head to a bucket or other attachment in the future. These brackets are available through all major loader dealers. Weld the female quick-attach brackets to the vertical load bearing members of your new bale-spear hay head and you are ready to attach the head to your loader.
The time and materials invested in building your own bale-spear loader head, customized to your needs and expectations, will pay you back for years to come.