The round bale hay experiment – Part 3

Round bale by the treeGone. That’s how I’d explain the round bale I mentioned in Part 1 (October 13) and Part 2 (November 21). Our horses totally decimated it and seem offended they actually needed to forage for grass again. But as the weather got colder and the grass in our pasture became less and less, I started realizing that supplemental forage seems like a necessity. We seemed to “get away with it” last year because we bought Valentine in mid-February and prior to that only had a single boarding horse on our 5+ acre pasture. This year is different. We have two permanent horses sharing one pasture of dead or missing grass. So here at the end of the “experiment” I can tell you it has been a total success. $20 worth of hay supplemented our horses forage needs for almost three months (October-January). I don’t expect to get nearly as much time out of the next round bale because our natural forage supply is almost gone.

Based on our experience these past few months, here are some notes I’ve made on round bales:

  • I’m a little concerned that our horses stand in one small area and eat from it all day. Will they get fat this way? I thought horses always wanted to keep moving for safety.
  • I came across an interesting report concerning round bale hay spoilage. The government of Alberta, BC, Canada funded a study of how round bale storage techniques affect spoilage. Although the report was conducted in 1988, the data remains relevant today. The results showed that, with the exception of round bales stored inside, there were no differences in hay spoilage where round bales were stored outside in rows versus wrapped in plastic. Round bales stored outside, according to the study, may lose up to 10% of the hay to spoilage, after 16 months, amazingly. Round bales stored away from the weather experienced no spoilage. For more information, visit the Round Bale Storage Techniques report at the Alberta government website.
  • Although I purchased this last round bale for $20, delivered straight off of the hay baler wagon, I wonder how much price will fluctuate in winter. Supply and demand and all.
  • Delivery was great but there is no hay cutting going on these days so I can’t count on free delivery. I’m sure I could pay for delivery but I have a car hauler trailer and am inclined to save a few bucks and pick it up myself. I wonder if this is a good idea. At 1,000 pounds, how difficult will each be to move around at home, since we don’t have a tractor?
  • Location – the spoilage report mentioned above notwithstanding, I’m still considering putting the new round bale in our old barn out in the pasture. I wonder if I’ll be able to get it in there without the aforementioned uncontrollable 1,000 round bale rolling through our barn and knocking it down. Sure, it would be funny later but barns aren’t cheap.

I made some calls to try and get another round bale, as the grass in our east Tennessee pasture becomes less and less with colder weather. Fortunately I have a friend who was willing to sell me 2 round bales for $30 total, provided we pick them up. So we picked up two round bales from an open field on 1/12/07 with our F150 and a 16 foot car hauler, which worked nicely. I think we could have pulled three round bales home if we wanted to. “Picked up” means we went to the field and my friend loaded both round bales onto our trailer with a tractor and hay spear.

We brought the round bales home and figured since our pasture is hilly, we’d use that to our advantage. I backed the trailer up with the rear facing downhill next to a tree and Mikki and I were able to roll off one of the round bales. The horses found this whole process quite interesting!

Horses like trucks

Next, I backed our trailer up to the barn to unload the second round bale. This proved much more difficult. I keep calling these “round” bales but in reality they’re flat on the bottom from sitting for 6 months. We also didn’t have the downhill advantage. But eventually we unloaded it. Man I wish we had a tractor.

Round bale on the trailer

So now our horses have their faces in the “new” hay every day for most of the day, though they do roam the pasture in between “meals”. The quality of these round bales looked pretty poor on the outside, with lots of visible mold. Since the bales are in layers (think pecan swirls), the moldy layer was easily unwrapped to reveal the good hay. The inside looked much better. The outside peeled off as we rolled the bale into place. Our horses are picky about their hay and forage so we don’t expect they’ll be interested in any of the moldy hay, as long as there is good hay to be had.

As of today, February 2nd, the first bale in the pasture is almost entirely gone. That’s 3 weeks for $20 ($15 plus gas to get it here). Not bad for winter forage, I suppose. The horses don’t seem to have touched the bale in the old barn for some reason. We might have to push it out.

Knowing how well round bales are working for us, we have a plan for later this year. This summer/early fall when the round bales are plentiful, cheap and not moldy, we’re going to stock up, putting them in the old barn protected from the elements. I’m sold on round bales!

Thanks to David who commented in The round bale hay experiment – Part 2 about using a hay ring, specifically a horse hay ring. Apparently one of these devices reduces the amount of wasted hay by keeping the round bale contained. Horses simply reach their necks over and feed out of the middle. We’re doing some more research on price, etc. and will bring it up in a later post. David says it extends the life of the bale up to a week or more. Sounds good to me, provided the price is reasonable.

Related Posts:
The round bale hay experiment – Part 1
The round bale hay experiment – Part 2
The round bale hay experiment – Part 3 (you are here)
The round bale hay experiment – Part 4
The round bale hay experiment – Part 5

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