I guess most people have dealt with large round bales of hay if they use hay in any significant quantities. They are more dense, larger and much cheaper to buy than the standard small square bales. Small square bales vary from approximately 25 lb up to a more standard 40 lb of hay in a rectangular-faced block that is reasonably easily manipulated by a single person. But the large rounds vary from about 800 lb up to almost 2000 lb for the “mega” version. And suffice it to say they are NOT easily manipulated or stacked.
This summer, the hay in our front pastures was cut by a very nice young local farmer. The small square bales were stacked in our barn with the help of numerous friends, to whom we are very thankful. But the large round bales were left in the field as we determined how best to deal with them. Since there were only ten of them, it was not really worth the local farmer’s effort to transport them to his place. And the trouble with leaving them in place was that they get wet and degenerate over time, becoming an obstacle to grazing plans and fences etc.
Now, dealing with them usually involves large machinery (i.e. tractor or skidsteer etc.) with all sorts of “spears” to skewer and lift the bales, or “grabbers”, like giant hydraulic hands. We own none of the above at the moment, so we were considering renting locally, or begging friends or neighbors to lend us such equipment. Even the lowest cost options involve a variety of wheeled cradles or other such jigs to winch the bales on and off, etc.
So, consumed by thinking about this dilemma, I happened upon a You Tube video solution which is basically cost free, using materials found around most farms. It does require a robust pulling vehicle such as a truck (we used our trusty Kawasaki UTV) and preferably at least a couple of people with a moderate amount of good ‘ol American, farm-raised muscle, such as our 4 boys and one daughter (aged 14-19). I think you will agree that the solution was excellent and cost us nothing, so we wanted to share it with the readers of this blog in case you ever need to wrestle with such a problem yourselves.
Below you can see a 4×8 foot sheet of 4-ply plywood. One of two simple modifications made are two small notches, cut about a foot from the front on each side, simply to hold the chain in place. The chain runs around the hitch, then through each notch and joins in the center. At the back I screwed two pieces of 2×4 inch stud as a back stop to prevent the bale sliding off as you move forwards.
A look at the equipment from another perspective. Note that the notches are angled so as to prevent slippage of the chain in a forward direction. Note also that creative farm children immediately saw the opportunity for motorized sledding fun, during summer no less!
Once out in the field, following hilarious sledding antics with anywhwere from 1 to 4 kids at any one time slowing up travel to the site of a parked round bale, all we needed to do was to tip the bale onto the sled. We found that tipping and manipulation could be done by one person, although 2-3 made things MUCH easier.
Pulling the bale was easy, as long as we accelerated very slowly and ran evenly in low gear using 4 wheel drive. Occasionally a bale slipped off the side and we needed to repeat the loading process, and we quickly learned not to change directions quickly, especially going up or down hills. Please note that everyone needs to be VERY careful loading and tipping these huge hay bales. People are killed or severely injured by large round bales too commonly on farms, so please treat them with the greatest respect. We found that we needed to be especially careful tipping bales downhill as it would be easy to imaging a bale tumbling or rolling downhill through fences and onto roads etc. So, our rules are that no-one rides on the slide with a loaded bale (front or back) and no-one positions themselves downhill of a tipping bale – any stabilization can be done from the side!
Once at the barn it was simply a reverse process of tipping the bale off into the appropriate position to be able to cover with a tarp etc.
Finally, we have 6 bales stacked closely and tarped to inhibit rain penetration. I believe that we can drag the bales back to the field in a similar fashion when we need to feed them to sheep.
I am now wondering how to actually feed out the hay in some organized fashion, since one bale would probably last about a month with the number of sheep we currently have!