Right Sizing: Matching Tractors to Balers

For ideal haying performance, it always works best when the tractor and baler are closely matched.

By Tharran Gaines

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When it comes to matching a tractor to a baler, think Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Using a tractor that’s too large for the job often wastes fuel and reduces maneuverability, while using one that’s too small creates even more problems, such as decreased PTO speed while climbing a hill or encountering a heavy crop mat.

Fortunately, Dave Funk, Jr., and his father, Dave Funk, Sr., have what they consider to be the ideal combination in their Hesston® by Massey Ferguson 2150 big square baler and Massey Ferguson® 8650 tractor, rated at 205 PTO horsepower.

“We also have a larger Massey Ferguson 8690, rated at 290 PTO horsepower, that we used to use on the baler before we got the 8650,” says Dave Jr. “But the 8690 really has a lot more horsepower than the baler really needs.

“The 8650 handles it real well, though, even though we could still get by with a little smaller tractor,” he adds. “There’s no lack of power and it allows the baler to take whatever it wants to, even if you’re going up a hill at the time … and we have some big hills. In fact, I wouldn’t try to run the baler in these hills with a two-wheel-drive tractor,” he continues. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re going uphill or downhill, you need that four-wheel-drive for traction and stability.”

“The required horsepower listed in the sales brochure or manual is also considered the minimum,” adds Dean Morrell, product marketing manager for Hesston by Massey Ferguson hay and forage equipment. He also notes that the tractor must also offer the required PTO speed. “For anything other than perfect conditions, I would generally recommend the horsepower be 10 to 15% above that, just to handle hills, heavy windrows, etc.”

Horsepower, Weight and Safety

Horsepower isn’t the only thing one needs to consider, though, when matching a tractor and baler, according to Morrell.

“Within most tractor lines, you often have an overlap or near overlap in horsepower between one series and the next,” he explains, noting for example, that the MF6600 Series tractors range from 100 to 180 PTO horsepower, while the MF7600 Series have a similar range of 110 to 195 PTO horsepower. “So if you have a tractor with the recommended PTO horsepower that happens to be in the smaller frame size, you may need to consider additional weight,” which he says will counter the drawbar weight of a large round or square baler and/or to improve traction.

Which brings us to the subject of safety. In addition to horsepower and weight, consider how the hay will be moved, making sure to have a tractor on hand with the necessary equipment, such as a front-end loader rated to carry your largest bales, and a cab or ROPS that provides frontal protection.

Funk believes he and his father have found the perfect tractor match for the 2150 baler when it comes to picking up bales. For that, they use a Massey Ferguson 5475 tractor with an MF loader MF956 on the front and a 3-point-hitch-mounted fast hitch on the back. The fast hitch not only allows Funk to pull a flatbed semi-trailer around in the field, but to connect and disconnect the unit without leaving the tractor seat. In effect, Funk can drop the trailer, pick up and load bales in the vicinity, hook up again and move to the next spot.

Wheel Spacing

Morrell also suggests producers always consider the wheel spacing or ability to adjust the spacing when choosing a baler tractor. “You need to have the rear wheels set wide enough to allow weaving back and forth while filling the bale chamber without running over the windrower,” he says, emphasizing the fact that all Hesston by Massey Ferguson balers, including the 1800 Series small rectangular balers, feature an in-line design that requires straddling the windrow.

Unlike small balers with side-delivery, crop flows into an 1800 Series baler in a straight line from the low-profile pickup to the stuffer and into a pre-compression chamber forming a square, equally dense flake. The direct line of crop flow also distributes leaves throughout the bale flake for increased palatability, while eliminating banana-shaped bales.

“You don’t need to weave as much with a square baler as you do with a round baler, but it’s something you need to consider. Fortunately, any tractor large enough to handle a big square baler or large round baler is going to be adjustable beyond 60 inches. So, in this case, we’re really just talking about small balers matched to small tractors.

“If there’s ever any doubt, though, about finding the ideal tractor and baler match, producers should know that assistance is never any farther away, than the local Massey Ferguson dealer,” Morrell concludes. “Whether you’re matching the tractor to a baler or vice versa, they’re there to help,”