September 23, 2007

How We Bale Hay by Hand

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How we bale hay by hand

We don’t own a tractor, so we cut and bale our hay by hand. Last year, we stored it loose in several sheds and anywhere we could find a few square feet of dry storage space. This year, we have a hand baler. A friend in Texas sent us a link and Hubby set to work on it. The baler in the plans is for use in making a bale of pine straw, but it works just fine baling our mixed-grass hay.


UPDATE 8-11-2012:
I've found a website with directions to build a hand-powered leaf and hay baler. While this one is a different type - horizontal rather than vertical - the principle is the same, and some might appreciate the step-by-step building instructions.)

UPDATE 7/11/2016:

Plans to download:

Here's a video showing how to use the hand baler.


Our hayfield is about 10-12 acres, so obviously we are doing this a little at a time. Hubby cuts the grass with our brush-mower. Once it’s dry, I use a fan rake to rake it up in windrows.

Baling hay by hand

This is the hand baler, all set up to make hay bales by hand.

Our homemade hay baler

Right now we are using baling wire because we had two rolls of it in the garage, left by a prior owner. The plans call for the use of baling twine, which will be much faster to set up, and we plan to buy some on our next trip to town. Note that the wire/twine is not run through the eye screws on the bottom of the baler, but between the eye and the wooden piece, just to keep it in place. Once you finish tying up the bale, the wire/twine slips out. Quite ingenious!

Baling hay by hand

Setting up the wire to make a new bale.

How we bale hay by hand

So, first we string the wire/twine, then shut the door of the baler. Hay is added through the opening in the top. When full, the plunger is used to pack down the hay, then more is added. Finally, with the plunger depressed, the bale is tied up tightly.

Our homemade hay baler

Release the plunger, open the door, and remove the bale of hay.

Our homemade hay baler, how we bale hay by hand

They are larger than what we’d envisioned. My best guess is that they are about half the size of a regular small square bale. This will make storage and feeding so much easier.

How we bale our hay by hand

Added 7/11/2016, the photos below are also available at my later post, Photos of our Hay Baler:

I've been asked for some additional photos of the hay baler. (Please excuse the pile of Stuff in the background.)

Instead of the rod where they attach the "eye" of the twine, ours has 2 small nails on the back of the baler for the same purpose. (Click on the photo to make it larger, then look for the nail. It's about 6" down.)

Homemade hay baler

Also, there are two screw-in eyes (as in hook and eye) on the bottom of ours - the twine is threaded between the wooden rib and the eye (not through the eye) to hold it in place as we put in the hay. It then pops out when the finished bale is removed.

Homemade hay baler

We found that the heaviest baling twine works the best; we had trouble with lighter twine breaking. We've also used baling wire with success.

How to bale hay by hand

Baling hay by hand with a homemade hay baler

I hope these are helpful. My hubby agrees that the plans online are pretty vague.

Baling Pine Straw using a Hand Powered Box Baler  Pine Straw Hand Baler Plans    A hand-powered, box baler can be easily constructed from common materials as outlined below. A average person should be able to bale approximately 100, 35-40 pound bales per day using this baler.:
I believe this photo is public domain. If it isn't,
please inform me so I can remove it. Thank you.

Reader Daniel sent this link pdf plans for a manual baler from Tillers International. They show plans for a horizontal baler.

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  1. is the link to the baler plans. For some reason, I'm having trouble getting the automatic link to work.

  2. WoW that is amazing.

  3. Bob B.6:59 AM

    How much hay are you getting per acre by hand? Bob B

  4. Hi, Bob. That's a hard question to answer. We're getting as much as one would get by having it baled mechanically. The bales are smaller, but the total yield is the same, if you know what I mean. Since this year we had record rainfall in Oklahoma, the yield is much higher than in previous years. In the past we've only had round bales done, so it's kind of like comparing apples to oranges. I know that's kind of a non-answer. Sorry about that.

  5. dennis b8:48 PM

    I've devised a system the past 3 years where I bag my clippings when I mow our large yard, dry them, then stuff them into trash bags to store in the barn. I had about 75 bags last year and this one to feed to my cattle. I like your design. Do you think it would work for grass clippings which are finer blades of grass than pasture hay?

  6. Hi Dennis, thank you for stopping by. My husband says "give it a try." We think it might depend on what kind of grass it is, how long the clippings are, and how tight you can compact the bale. It's certainly worth a try, and if it doesn't work, you can still use trash bags. The baler was originally designed for baling pine straw, which is also short and straight, so it may very well work.

  7. im looking to buy one of these but im having trouble finding any

  8. Hey, Kathi--

    Over here in Western Massachusetts, I just cut my first acre by hand and came across your blog while I was researching how, exactly, I could turn all this loose hay into baled hay. Thank you for sharing this wonderful resource. I believe I can have this built next week!

    If you have any interest in removing even a little more machinery from the process, I really recommend using a scythe--not the kind you find in hardware stores. Those scythes will break your back and wear on your shoulders.

    I found out about who sells handmade handles and Austrian hand-hammered blades. The thing weighs next to nothing, and now that I've had some practice, I am as fast as I ever was with a brush cutter.

    And it's quiet. And it doesn't run on gas. And it's pretty good, light exercise. We've had a lot of rain here this year, so I'm almost ready to take the second cutting. Thank you again for passing along your story and the information!

    Pen and Plow Farm

  9. Wayne in Maine6:38 AM

    My partner and I studied all the pictures and plans for the baler we could find, then sat down in the garage and built one in less than 4 hours. The only change we made was to put an attachment on the back so that we could secure the baler to the hitch of an ATV to make it easier to move around the field for baling. You could add large wheels and move it by hand I suppose. We have three fields of 35 acres total to do in eastern Maine. Wish us luck :>)

  10. Good luck, Wayne!

  11. I follow your blog for a long time and must tell you that your posts always prove to be of a high value and quality for readers. Keep it up.

  12. Thanks so much for the pictures! Very inspirational. We only use a half dozen of so bales of grass hay a year for our goats, so my children and I should have no problem putting up enough from our own property for next winter.

  13. We're doing our hay by hand this year, too (and we're using scythes from GREAT tools!)

    My question is, "How do I know when the hay is dry enough to bale?"

    I know it's supposed to be a certain percentage moisture, but I have no idea on how to figure that one out.

    Anyone have a basic rule of thumb?

  14. Pony, you didn't leave an email address so that I could write to you directly. I hope you come back and read the comments so you'll see this.

    We don't use a scientific method. We wait till it looks dry, doesn't smell or feel wet, and is still slightly green if possible. In an Oklahoma summer it usually just takes one day to dry it; that's how long the "big guys" wait here.

    You might have to turn it to dry all sides, especially if you live in a more humid climate. Happy haying!

  15. Anonymous10:10 PM

    i got mine done in 3 hours works great,i use mine to bale grass cilpings thanks for the plans

  16. Anonymous5:24 PM

    I love your answer to the amount of hay produced with this bailer.
    It reminds me of an old joke...
    A guy goes into a pizza parlour and the owner asks "how many pieces
    do you want your pizza cut in, 6 or 8"? The customer replies "6 I don't think I could eat 8"! We have
    apprx 2 acres we pasture/mow for goats and will be building this as soon as we can. Thanks for a wonderfull idea, it will save us a lot of money!

  17. Anonymous8:28 PM

    Thank you for the excellent posts

  18. Are you still Baling by hand? How is it going? About how many acres do you bale?

  19. Hi Will. We've been in a serious drought for two years here and there hasn't been enough to cut. We have approximately 12 acres that we use for hay. Two years ago we fixed the holes in the fence and have let the horses in the field to graze it, but the goats still require hay, which is hard to find and expensive right now. Praying for a better year!

  20. Anonymous4:49 PM

    I have roughly an acre of Bahia grass planted for hay. I had a neighbor cut the first growth, proceeded to flip the hay manually. (Mega chore single handed) Got the hay raked into rows and fluffed, here in Mississippi with 70-80% humidity and 90F days it took 3 days to dry. I then took 3 of us to load and truck the hay to a neighbors. I am sure this baler will work wonders.
    Recently I used a riding mower to mow a 10ft by 200ft section of the field and it produced 8 lawn bags stuffed with hay. Each bag should fill the box roughly half full once compressed, so I am spit balling an output of say 4 bales of hay.
    Hope this helps those trying to guess how much hay a field will produce. Locally growers are getting 10-12 600lb round bales from what appear to be 5-7 acre field. This is judged by my 4 acre home lot.

  21. Great idea for doing it ourselves! We used to when we were much younger but now convenience is easier than hard work ;)Thanks for sharing this!

  22. We did this same thing this year. We used an ice cooler and a packer/crate they weren't big and they were kind of small and sloppy however effective. This year out grass/hay didn't go to waste! Found this interesting if we build one ill link back here!

  23. I need one of those hay ballers real bad. I love to decorate for Fall with hay bells but I have to go buy them myself.

  24. I just wanted to say I'm so glad I found this post. I'm impressed! Qw have about almost 4 acres of pasture land and my sheep can never keep up so I have an acre field that I wanted to cut with my mower and use for hay after it dries. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  25. You're welcome, Carole. It's hard work but it is possible!

  26. Anonymous9:44 PM

    Is it hard work

  27. Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead6:13 AM

    Yes, it's hard work, and the summer temperatures in Oklahoma often top 100 degrees, but you do what you have to do, right?

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