It’s a rite of passage if you are a youngster on a farm. It can be torture to the tender or great training for the adventurous. It can clog up your head with pollen and dust, but clear your thinking. This is hay-hauling season in Alabama, and if you are one of those who enjoys neat, square stacks of hay in the barn, square bales are for you.
It’s Hip to be Square
There are many times during winter’s feeding when a small number of cattle have to be fed. A sick cow or horse in the barn requires smaller amounts of hay, and the square bales make this type of feeding more efficient. The ability to carry and feed a small amount of hay is a cost-saving technique that can be achieved through the square bales.
Lower Cost in Equipment
Another advantage to small, square bales is the equipment. Typically, four implements are used to create square bales. The older model, smaller equipment can be purchased used for an extra savings. With a sickle bar mower, tedder (hay fluffer), rake and small baler, you can produce hundreds of square bales over the course of a summer with a tractor of no more than 40 horsepower. Since the bales can be loaded by hand, the need for a front-end loader spear or forklift is eliminated. The need for a heavy-duty trailer is eliminated as well. Hay can be hauled from the field in the bed of a pickup, flatbed truck or even a utility trailer. In addition, the danger of handling large, round bales is eliminated.
Another savings method if you are farming on a small scale is a reduction in hay spoilage. Smaller bales can be fed throughout the pasture resulting in less concentrated hoof traffic in feeding areas and less trampled waste of hay. In addition, if you decide to sell some of your square bales, marketing and transportation is sometimes easier when a producer only wants to buy a limited amount of hay.
Small, square bales certainly make the most of your storage space if you have limited room in a typical barn. Many of the older-style barns with hay lofts are much better suited to the storage of small bales. If you plan to store hay in a loft that has been around for a few years, take the time to check the structure for sags, cracked or rotten timbers and roof leaks. It’s much easier to make these repairs with an empty barn than a full one.
Checking for roof leaks is much easier with two people. While one person is on top of the barn with a can of roofing tar, the person underneath the roof can check for leaks with a long pole or broom handle. Simply drive a nail into the end of the pole and remove the head. This device can then be used to point holes out to the person on top for tar coverage.
Even if you have nothing more than a covered pole shed that doesn’t leak, square bales can be stacked from the ground to the top of the structure. For the ground layer, lay the bales on their edge to prevent string rot. The remaining bales can be stacked flat on top of the first layer.
Load ‘Em up
Once the hay has been baled, square bales should quickly be hauled and stored in the dry. To prevent added moisture, it’s best to have the hay hauled into the barn before the dew falls. On a typical, flat structure like a pickup bed, flatbed truck or trailer, stack the hay on the first level all in one direction. On each additional level of hay, stack the bales in the opposite direction. By alternating the direction of the stacked bales, the load is more secure. Finally, to prevent the load from becoming top heavy, the upper layers should be stacked in a pyramid style. The last thing you want to do is restack toppled hay a second time.
Hauling square bales of hay is a job of endurance. As teenagers, my cousins as I would get to the hay field and see who could throw up and stack the most hay in the quickest manner. My Grandfather would remind us, "Boys, you’ve got to work like a mule, not a horse." What he meant was we needed to work at a slower, steady pace so we wouldn’t fatigue before the hay was stored.
Since hay-hauling is typically a heat-of-the-summer activity, it’s extremely important to stay hydrated and take a short, cool down break after each load. For the most effective hauling of square bales, you need at least three people. One lucky soul drives the truck, one throws hay onto the truck and the other stacks. When reaching the barn, one throws hay off the truck and the other two stack into the barn or other structure.
When it comes to storing hay forage for winter livestock feeding, square bales may not always be the best choice. It’s sometimes difficult to find regular labor available during the short window of opportunity to haul square bales. In addition, the more labor-intensive method of square baling may make round bales the best option if there are large amounts of hay to be baled.
However, if you have youngsters in your community looking for extra spending money, you’ll be teaching them a valuable work ethic with the hauling of square bales. If it’s your own children or grandchildren, they will quickly understand the value of hard work when they leave the hay field. When it’s hay-hauling time in Alabama, spread the hay fever with a few square bales this summer.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.