I hate big round bales. That loathing began in 1978 when I hauled in a load of them by semi from Nebraska.
I had been making a living shoeing horses in the summer and hauling hay in the winter: 435 bales – 20 tons – I loaded and unloaded by hand every day. Hay was scarce and high-priced in Montana that year, and we saved a pile of money by hauling it in from afar. But we didn’t have the equipment in those days to handle these 6-foot diameter, 1200-pound bales.
We couldn’t lift those bales, so we pushed them off the truck with a loader tractor. We drove a steel rod through the middle of them and ran a chain off each end to the bumper on the pickup and rolled them along behind. When we cut the twines that held them together, the bales spun apart in the field where the cows could eat them.
Thirty-three years later, most ranchers put up all their hay in big rounds – and I still hate them. I consider them to be big, awkward, and wasteful. The only positive thing that can be said about them is that they are easy.
Ranches are larger than they were 30 years ago, and depend heavily on hydraulics to do the work that was previously accomplished largely by hand. Even our small operation now has a tractor large enough to handle those big round bales that can weigh 1600 pounds apiece. And now 90% of Montana ranches put up their hay in big round bales.
How can so many people be so wrong? I am a hold-out: one of the few ranchers left who put up small square bales.
Big round balers are cheaper, faster, and less complicated than small square balers, and out-sell small squares by probably 20:1. But they require bigger and more expensive equipment to feed, are more awkward to haul, and waste 10-25% more hay.
But “everyone” else uses them, and I didn’t put up enough hay to get through to green grass. The hay that was available to me nearby was in big round bales. So now I’m feeding them myself and cussing.
More on big round bales tomorrow.