A LOCKINGTON electrician has designed a highly accurate method of weighing large square bales as they are made in the paddock reports MARK SAUNDERSHay balers have come along in leaps and bounds in the past decade or so, especially in terms of capacity.
Today's large square balers can easily pump out a hay bale weighing close to a tonne thanks to high density production techniques.
But the weight can vary significantly due to changing conditions in the paddock and the amount of hay in the wind row.
Bales of the same size may vary 200-400kg in weight and that makes it difficult to handle them safely, load a truck with them to legal requirements and market them effectively.
That's why Dan Dullard, a Lockington farmer and electrician, has developed the Bale Scale system, which he said will accurately weigh bales as they come off the back of a large square baler.
Dan said he started work on the system several years ago when he began selling his hay to a dairy farmer who needed to know exactly what he was buying.
"Plus I needed to know exactly what I had in the paddock in terms of hay and it's very inaccurate to go by the amount of bales," Dan said.
"It's very handy to know how much hay there is in the paddock right from the start."
Dan set about building a weighing system using load cells.
He also started talking to his local hay contractor Darryl Jensen from Jenharwill Baling, Elmore.
Darryl said he was interested in using a weighing system, especially when he upgraded his large square balers to high density models.
"Sometimes you make a really good bale and think it is 'x' kilos and it's actually heaps lighter," Darryl said.
"With the increased focus on OH&S issues and the ramifications in terms of transporting hay on the roads, knowing the bale weight is vitally important.
"Whether you are buying or selling hay, it's much better to know the individual bale weight."
Dan also employed one of Darryl's staff, Scott Morrison, to help with some of the steel fabrication and engineering of the Bale Scale set up.
Scott is a mechanic by trade and after several prototypes were tried, the final design was made.
The Bale Scale uses four load cells which are placed on a large square baler's drop down tailgate.
As the hay bale comes out of the rear of the baler and lands on the tailgate, the load cells weigh the bale and transmit the data to a monitor in the tractor cabin.
Existing tailgates can be retro-fitted with the system or Dan said a whole new, pre-fabricated tailgate can be installed.
"The tailgate modifications include adding two rollers to help keep the bales separate from each other.
"The bale being weighed has to sit stationary on the tailgate for a short time to be weighed while the next bale coming out of the chamber is being made."
Dan has no formal qualifications in terms of engineering.
"I have spent time working in refineries and large factories so I had some time being exposed to the programming side of things.
"I developed the initial software for the system but I recently used a firm called Shumi Soft in Melbourne to help convert the software to a platform which is much more user friendly," Dan said.
"So you can link the system to GPS software and that means every bale can be weighed and logged with a GPS reference point.
"Further down the track we hope to be able to use that data to generate hay yield maps of paddocks as well.
"And you should be able to log on to a website and see and manage all that data remotely."
For contractors such as Darryl who supply the export market with hay, being able to access all the information in one place will save time and money.
"Exporters are demanding more and more information on the hay and the Bale Scale helps get away from the duplication of details," Darryl said.
The Bale Scale system is accurate to within two per cent and an annual calibration is all that's required to ensure the accuracy is maintained.
Dan has also used the Bale Scale system on silage transport trucks to help drivers know exactly how much they are carrying.
"It's the same system which used load cells and a monitor in the truck cabin," Dan said.