Been a little while since we talked about this but I have an update. Since we last wrote about our round bale experiment in February 2007 (yikes – over two years ago!), we bought a round bale feeder with cutouts for horses. We were told we could just buy the cow version but we liked how the horse version seemed to do a better job of keeping the horses separated and that’s important when four horses are eating off of the same bale. Whoever suggested to us that the round bale feeder would save us money in hay was absolutely right. After about a year I can honestly say this thing has probably paid for itself. The old method was to drop a round bale out in the pasture to let the horses feed freely on it. But they ended up walking and pooping all over the hay and of course they wanted nothing to do with it then. We’d lose about 20% of every bale this way. With the round bale feeder we lose almost nothing. I believe we paid about $100 for the galvanized version which came in three pieces we needed to bolt together. It’s surprisingly light, though it’s size makes it a little hard to maneuver. We usually flip it on it’s side and roll it to the next location (it’s muddy in the photo above because we rolled it through the mud) and then flop it down onto it’s legs over a round bale. I can do it myself but prefer having the help of another person.
As you know, we don’t have a tractor so moving round bales has been a challenge. What seems to be working for us it to load up our flat car-hauler trailer with four round bales and then as needed we back the trailer into the pasture and roll one off by hand. Surprisingly I can move one myself but I don’t have complete control because there is a bit of elevation where we feed hay. What’s worse, though, is when we need to drop a new round bale after it’s been raining. Our clay is slippery when wet. Backing a heavy car hauler and a heavy truck over wet clay is a great way to get stuck. And that’s just what happened last week. Understand that our truck is four wheel drive and supercharged but there was no moving that trailer once it was stuck in the mud. Fortunately for us, there were no more bales on the trailer so we just disconnected and left it there. I barely got out of there in the truck. So that’s our big challenge right now with this method of round bale delivery. What we really need is a 4×4 tractor. I’ve had lots of people tell me I don’t need 4 wheel drive on a tractor but a tractor I can only use when it hasn’t rained in the past 3 days is of little use. We get 70 or so inches of rain a year here.
In summary, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND a round bale feeder!
A few weeks ago, our horse friends, the Watsons, told us they had a source for hay. We were pretty excited because east Tennessee and everywhere around it has been in the grip of a major drought for months, so hay is getting to be alarmingly scarce, and expensive when you can find it. Jeff Watson knew someone at work who was cutting hay for the first time (the VERY first time) and would let us pick it up in the field for $2 a bale! There were wildly varying estimates of how much hay would be available, from about 250 bales to about 1,000 bales. The fact that the hayfield owner couldn’t narrow it down to within 750 bales should have been a red flag, I guess. Shari asked Jeff to make sure that the hay was good stuff; Jeff was assured that it was. So after a couple of weeks of scheduling problems, we finally made it out there about a month ago.
It was about an hour from our house. We brought 3 trailers in case the 1,000-bale estimate was closest. When we got to the field, it was about half the size of, and as hilly as, our own pasture. That is to say, maybe 3 acres with very rolling hills. What we could see looked to be about 150 bales. And the parts that weren’t mowed yet were just as brushy and weedy as our pasture, too.
An hour later, we had 189 bales and were glad there weren’t more. This hay is full of goodness-knows-what. There’s some good hay in there, but there are sticks and twigs and spiky stuff too. And something that we guess is poison ivy, because poor Bill ended up with a rash wherever he wasn’t covered, and I didn’t – it seems that I’m one of those lucky people who aren’t sensitive to poison oak or poison ivy, because whenever Bill, the Kid and I have accidentally blundered into a patch of either one, only Bill suffers (a little bit of trivia: we’re told that Native Americans are naturally resistant to poison oak and poison ivy, and I’m part Cherokee and Osage – as is the Kid, since he’s my…kid).
Anyway…so we have 99 bales of $2 hay, and we may have overpaid. Our barn is full (of hay that only I can touch), and the horses have been eating it for about a month now with no ill effects, but we are definitely going to look elsewhere for good hay for the winter, when their nutritional needs are so dependent on the forage we provide.
I just want to be clear, though – we are VERY glad to have this hay, despite the problems, and relieved that we have some when so many people are having to sell their horses because they can’t find or buy hay. But, as is the case most of the time, you get what you pay for.
Speaking of hay, the word from the hay farmers in east Tennessee is that 2007 is shaping up to be a very bad year for hay. The first harvest of the year was about half it’s normal size and the lack of rain since the first harvest could mean there is no second harvest. In Tennessee, we had a hard freeze well into spring that seems to have slowed the growth of just about everything this season. That’s probably the culprit of the smaller-than-normal first harvest. Local farmers say we’re in the drought end of a 10-year moisture cycle in these parts.
What all of this means for those of us buying hay in east Tennessee is high prices and low availability. Last year feed stores were selling 30-40 pound square bales for up to $5.50 each last winter. I wonder what the price will be this year. If these farmers are correct, the best time to purchase hay is right now. As long as we keep them away from moisture, the bales will easily last and we have the room for it now. We’re planning on stocking up on round bales for winter and square bales for daily roughage. Worse-case scenario, we’ll supplement this winter with bagged alfalfa but I’d rather not do that. If you live in the southeast, this might be a good year to consider building some hay storage.
Luckily the midwest seems to be having a wet summer so you horse owners out there are probably in good shape. Heck, we might be importing hay from you guys this year!
A few weeks ago we helped out bringing in the first cutting of hay for this year. It’s been 20 years since I helped “put up hay” and since I don’t have to do it for a living, it seemed like a fun idea at the time. I’m here to tell you, putting up hay is HARD WORK and I have a whole new respect for those who do it for a living. Here’s the square bale harvesting process in a nutshell:
At harvest time, a tractor pulls a hay cutter over the field being harvested.
Although not required, these days many farmers choose to use what’s called a hay tedder (some spell it “hay tetter”). A tractor implement, the hay tedder has circular rakes that spin as the tedder is pulled through the cut hay. This effectively fluffs and spreads it the cut hay to speed up and more thoroughly dry it. It’s important that hay be dry prior to bailing or else bacteria and mold will grow in the moist warm hay. I like to call the hay tedder a “hay fluffer”, much to the amusement of hay farmers.
After drying, the hay is raked into rows for the baler (using a tractor with a hay rake).
A tractor drives over the rows with a hay baler (some spell it “bailer”) implement. The hay is fed into the baler which compacts the hay into neat bales of a specific size (although somewhat changeable, we stuck with 50 lb. bales), cuts each bale into slices and then ties each bale with hay twine before spitting it out the back onto a hay wagon or onto the field, depending on what’s happening in step 5. There are lots of things that will stop a baler from working properly. This is the one single machine that seems to cause the most headache, as it’s in need of frequent maintenance, repair and kicking.
Up until this step, most of the work is done by machine. Step 5 involves manual labor. If you have a hay wagon, the baler spits the bale towards the wagon where someone reaches down and throws the bales to whoever is stacking the hay on the wagon. If you don’t have a hay wagon, the baler drops the bales onto the ground. These are then picked up and thrown onto whatever kind of trailer will be used to haul the hay (often a car hauler) by people following the baler in the field. We had several people collecting the hay and throwing the bales onto the trailer. The stacker had an easy job until the bales started stacking up. We stacked five rows high and that fifth row is a pain!
Once a trailer is full of hay, it’s sent off to wherever it’s going. Typically this means it’s unloaded into a barn that same day. Lots of manual labor here as someone needs to throw the hay up into the barn and someone needs to stack.
Trust me, by the end of the day, a shower is MANDATORY and you’ll be finding hay in places where you’d least expect it. The temperature that day was in the mid 80’s and humid so everyone was covered in sweat. Working with hay is itchy. I remembered not to wear shorts but forgot to wear a long sleeve shirt. It’s hard to wear long pants and long sleeves in the hot, humid summer but I’d rather sweat than be itchy all day.
Although the Kid and his friends came along to help, 50 pound bales were too much for anyone under 16 or so to move. Because of that, the 10-ish kids got to experience something far more fun. Farm kids learn to drive in the field during the hay harvest. The Kid LOVED it. I was a nervous wreck. Thanks to the ability to take pictures and video with my cell phone, Mikki was a nervous wreck, too, almost 2000 miles away on her trip. I put the drivers seat up as far as it went, raised the pedals, put the truck in four wheel drive low, dropped it into first gear and instructed our 10-year-old Kid to drive our air conditioned truck slowly behind the baler so the rest of us could do the heavy lifting. And he did a great job. This is one day when it paid to be small.
I want to close this post by saying how much respect I have for the farmers who do this kind of work every day. These people do it for a living and have strength and endurance that’s lost on those of us who are consumers only. I normally sit at a computer all day during the week and my out-of-shape body could barely walk the next day. I worked for five hours straight but these farmers were out there all day without much of a break and did it again every day that week. Amazing. Fortunately, I’ll forget how much work this was before the next harvest and will volunteer to help out again.
Gone. 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!
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.
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.
A month ago I wrote about experimenting with a round bale of hay in the pasture during the cold season and here’s an update on how that’s going for us. Although our horses almost entirely ignored the round bale when the weather was warm, they’ve shown great interest in it once the weather cooled and the green grasses died off for the winter. In fact, I’m starting to think we should have purchased a few more round bales. Not only was the price a good deal ($20 for 1,000 pounds of fresh-cut hay!), I’m starting to think the horses really need the supplemental forage until spring. Almost every day now I see at least one horse rear sticking out beside the tree where the round bale rests. The horses don’t seem to like to outer layer which is no doubt moist from all the rain we’ve been having but the chewy center must be delicious, as they’ve managed to carve the middle section of the round bale out (see picture). So I’d say the “experiment” is going quite well. Armed with this information, I’ll probably look for some more round bales, though the prices have almost certainly gone up since I bought this one. If I’m successful in acquiring a few more, I’m going to place them in the old barn to keep the moisture down this time.
I need to point out that the brush you see on the left of that picture isn’t normally there. A nearby tree split during a storm and has since been trimmed. We try to correct fallen trees and other hazards as quickly as possible for the safety of the horses.
A few weeks ago a guy we go to church with dropped by to deliver a roll of hay. We’ve decided to supplement our square bales for the horses (which cost $1 each at a minimum and as much as $4.50 at the end of winter when supply is low and demand is high) with a roll or two of round bale. Round bales are much less expensive ($20 this time) because they are easier to make when the hay is being gathered. But they’re also harder to transport and store. We can move square bales at 30 pounds each but couldn’t move 1,500 pounds of round bale by ourselves. We can stack square bales in the barn and pull off a flake at a time (a flake is a two-inch or so slice of hay precut during baling). Although you could use a round bale for everyday feeding in the barn, you’d have to roll one in and pitch-fork it to the feed bins. We opted for a round bale as a test to see if the horses would eat it in the pasture and if it works out, we’ll buy another one and have it rolled into the old barn to supplement our square bales if we run low towards the end of winter.
This delivery was made into the pasture and I’ve never seen it done before so I thought I’d share some pics. Basically, the baler (or is it bailer?) backed up to a tree and plopped a roll out. The tree is to protect the hay from rain and to stop it from rolling during delivery. So far the horses don’t appear to have touched it but there is still plenty of green grass so I can’t blame them. I’ll update you on the round bale hay experiment over the next several months.
One of the most important things we’re trying to do with this website is to identify the expenses involved with horse ownership so new horse owners know what to expect. I now know how much we’re spending on hay for our two horses during the summer months. Back on May 22nd of this year, we secured a load of hay that will last until tomorrow, August 22. Here are the facts:
Purchase date: 5/22/06 Quantity: 40 square bales (30 lbs. each) Cost: $1 per bale/$40 total Additional expense: $20 gasoline Total cost without gas: $40 Total cost with gas: $60 Supply longevity: 93 days
Base on those figures, here’s how the hay cost breaks down:
Bales used per day: .43 or 2/5th’s total per day Cost per day w/o gas: $.43 total or $.22 per horse Cost per day w/gas: $.66 or $.33 per horse
So that’s pretty good! If only hay cost $1 per bale all year.
Now here’s a little background on this hay purchase. We live in east Tennessee and know someone whose mom has a farm and raises hay. She had some hay from the previous year that was dry and in good shape. Our friend feeds this hay to all of her horses including a pregnant mare who foaled this summer. The hay was $1 a bale partially because it was cut last year and they wanted to make room for the new cutting. We think that the price next time will be more like $2.50 for fresher hay but will detail that expense when we get to it. Our horses ate the older hay for 3 months and seemed fine with it. We didn’t find any mold and it held together nicely.