Round Bales or Square?
We have used both and I have a conclusion on this whole hay debate.
If you have animals, you’re probably, eventually going to need some hay.
The great thing about the hay situation here in Kentucky is that it is very seasonal. We only NEED to feed hay a few months of the year. The remainder of the year the cows have pasture to graze. We chose to provide dry hay year round for our cows, however, it is only mandatory during the winter months.
You may have read my first post on hay. It was all about finding it, buying it and getting it stored for the year. It’s full of sweat, hardworking-teenagers and bales of hay. To read it go here.
All hay bales are not created equal.
There are some things to look for when purchasing hay. We have had some negative experiences and disasters. Don’t be like me.
There are 2 main categories of hay
- Round Bales
- Square Bales
Yes, I know that there are different sizes and shapes within the categories, but we’re going to keep it simple: Round and Square.
You may have seen fields stacked or sprinkled with giant round bales of hay. These are enormous and heavy. They can weigh 1400-1800 pounds (if the hay was damp when baled they can weigh over 2000 pounds). Round bales are great if you have 15+ cows to feed and a tractor.
Benefits of Round Bales:
- Availability. Round bales are common in my area & easier to find than square.
- Less work. With round bales you don’t have to move hay as often since they are HUGE. You only have to feed round bales (to a small herd) once a week (or even two) instead of twice a day.
- Price. I couldn’t believe it when I found out how much a round bale costs. Around here you can get a high-quality, round bale for $25. That’s a lot of food for $25.
Problems with Round Bales.
When you put a bale that size in a field you have a few problems:
- Waste. Even with feeders there is a portion of the hay that is lost due to the cows pooping, peeing, stepping and sleeping on it.
- Rain. If it rains on a giant round bale for a week (or even 4 days straight) you might as well call it compost and put another bale out for the cattle. Even if that round bale was brand new. Even if it only lived in the field for 1 hour. If it rains on it for a week – the cows won’t eat it. Even if you tell them they are not getting anything else to eat until they finish their bale – they will not eat it. Even if you think, “If they get hungry enough – they’ll eat it” they will not eat it. They will take out 100 feet of fencing and leave the farm looking for food. If you don’t believe me go here (THE BULL GOT OUT) and read all about it. Ugh.
- Deterioration. As the bale sits out in the elements it looses nutrients fast. Rain, snow, etc will destroy the value of the hay.
- Field sacrifice. Expect where ever you put the round bale & 20 feet in every direction to be trashed. I mean, muddy, swampy, crushed, manure filled, nasty, no grass in site – trashed. The cows will hang out all day where the food is. Especially in winter. They will stand and pee and poop and stomp and rest and hang out right in front of that bale for months and months and months. Your field may never be the same.
First of all, they aren’t really square, they’re rectangles. We have 4-6 cows (depending on the week) and no way to move a 1500 pound bale of hay. That’s why we opt for the square bales. These can weigh anywhere from 40 pounds up to 70+ pounds.
If the hay is baled tight it will weigh about 70 pounds. If it is baled really, really fluffy and loosely it will only weigh 30 pounds. We ran out of hay a couple of winters ago. I’ll never forget when I went to lift the bale of hay from the feed store. I was accustomed to my neighbors bales (alflpha mix, packed tight, about 70 pounds each). I grabbed the bale of dry, fluffy crap from the store and almost threw it over the trailer. It weighed nothing. It was less than 1/2 the weight. And it cost more!
Benefits of Square Bales:
- Small. Easy to move, lift and feed to animals. Our 2 oldest children (now 13 & 15) can move square bales with no problems
- Little to no waste
- No Deterioration – the cows devour it as soon as it’s served
- Minimal field destruction (you can easily move the feeding spot if an area of the field starts to get beat up)
Problems with Square Bales:
- You have to deliver the hay to the animals daily.
- In most situations you will be feeding hay square bales twice a day.
- They cost a lot more than round. Prices vary greatly depending on location and availability. Around here a 70 pound square bale can cost between $3- $7.
We have fed square bales and round bales. The nice thing about round bales is that you don’t have to “feed the cows” twice a day. The bale is out in the field and they can eat on it whenever they want. Round bales are not necessarily cheaper since there is LOTS of wasted hay and LOTS of damage to your beautiful grassy field.
If we had a way to move large, round bales I think we would use them for our cattle. It wins in the, “easy” department, is cheaper and is a once a week chore instead of daily.
I am all about simplifying life.
Since we don’t have a way to move 1400 pounds of hay, we use the square ones.
Whether you decide on round or square, make sure you find some good (high quality) hay. All bales are not created equal.
- Some are moldy
- Some are fluffy
- Some are sticky
- Some are perfect.
We get our hay from a neighbor. Our neighbor raises the best hay in the surrounding 4 counties. Our vet said so.
There’s a saying in the hay business, “You can pay for good hay or you can pay for supplements.” It’s kind of like the saying, “You can pay the grocer or you can pay the doctor.”
If the hay you feed your animals is terrible they will need more feed, grain and other supplements to be sure their health is not sacrificed. If you buy excellent hay you will not need to supplement with much of anything.
Quality hay is rich in nearly all the goodness healthy animals need. Throw in a good mineral program and your livestock should be set.
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Thanks for reading,