What do tacos and hay have in common? For Utah hay producer Dave Staheli, the two would come together in a way that he could not have predicted.
“I had experienced a really dry year putting up hay,” he says. “As I was eating at a local taco place, I watched a girl put a cold, hard tortilla in the steamer for a few seconds. When she pulled it out, it was soft and warm.”
Staheli wondered if he could apply that same concept to hay.
“I went home and rigged up a pressure cooker with a hose and took the steam off the pressure cooker. Then I put some hay in a box and fed the steam into that box of hay to see how the hay would react to it. The steam actually softened the hay,” he explains.
Investing in a three-dimensional design program, Staheli drew up the plans for what would become the DewPoint 6110.
How it works
Staheli compares maintaining quality hay to dried flowers. “Dried flowers are really brittle, and the leaves and petals can fall off easily. It's the same concept with alfalfa,” he says. “You're trying to maintain the leaves on the stems because that's where all the feed value is. What you run into in the West is arid, dry conditions. Hay is almost always dry, so you have to have natural dew to soften it in order to get it baled and to maintain the leaves.”
In essence, Staheli has built a mobile steam generator. This process keeps the high-protein leaves in the bale and makes a nice compressed, dense bale for shipping, storing, and feeding.
“Hoses come back and inject steam into the dry windrow as it's picked up out of the field,” Staheli says. “That steam path continues up through the baler. The hay is compressed and softened instantly so you don't need natural dew to bale. This allows you to bale hay all day long.”
His invention hasn't been without trial and error, or a few tweaks to the original design along the way.
“I discovered that as fast as steam penetrates and absorbs into material, it comes back out, too. So it can't be applied ahead of or behind the tractor. It has to be right where you're packing hay into the machine,” he says.
“A lot of people think you're adding moisture by spraying water on, but that's not the case. It's steam, which absorbs into dry hay much faster than if water were sprayed on,” he says.
For now, the machine handles 3×4-foot and 4×4-foot large square bales. In the future, Staheli will try to size the machine down for the smaller bale market.
In 2010, he built five units, which all sold. By spring 2012, 40 machines will be in fields. This oil-fired, computer-controlled steam generator is user-friendly, and it has touch-screen controls in the cab.
“This machine, working eight to 12 hours a day, can replace four conventional tractor and baler combinations. So immediately you've paid off the $162,000 investment,” he says.
With one season under his belt, Oregon grower Bob Houts says he'll never bale hay without his DewPoint 6110.