Hay Bale Heaven: Move Bales Faster With Less Labor and Equipment

Whether farmers and ranchers are hauling hay bales to storage or moving them to pasture to feed cattle in winter, how efficiently they do so has a big impact on productivity and profits.

While conventional hay trailers have been around for a hundred years, a new generation of self-loading/unloading trailer will offer a sort of hay bale heaven, enabling farmers and ranchers to move bales faster with less labor and equipment. The technology, in fact, promises to reduce hay waste as well as improve productivity and profits for years to come.

Reduce Hay Waste
Until recently, “bad side” hay waste has been a costly, unavoidable expense to farmers and ranchers, caused in part by a production equipment bottleneck that leaves bales exposed to moisture in the field.

When baled hay sits in the field for days or weeks before it is hauled to storage, the bottom picks up moisture and mildew, creating an inedible “bad side” that’s wasted. The longer baled hay sits before it is moved, the more becomes unusable.

Most ranchers do not realize how much money is lost as a result of these bad spots. But consider this scenario: If a rancher has 300 head of cattle, he will need about three bales per head for the winter, which adds up to approximately 1,000 bales. If 10% is wasted and the bales average 1,000 lbs. each, that is 100,000 lbs. of hay wasted.

If a rancher uses the right type of hay hauling equipment to minimize this type of waste, at $40 per bale that is $4,000 or 100 bales per year he does not need to buy or produce.

One way to accomplish this is with the latest generation of self-loading/unloading trailers. Unlike conventional hay trailers that must be loaded and unloaded with a tractor, this type of trailer utilizes hydraulic controls to lift bales and set them down where needed. Because the rails slide under the bales, even old and misshapen bales can be lifted and transported with no further damage.

This speeds the loading, transporting and then unloading of bales to storage areas or to remote fields. Better yet, some models can be hitched to a standard pickup truck, not just a tractor. This is a benefit as tractors are often already being used for more critical operations such as baling therefore are not readily available.

“With a hay trailer, you’ve got to pick up the bales with a tractor to load and unload it,” says Edwin McLerran, who raises about 150 cows and grows about 1,200 bales of hay a year on his property and rental property in Quincy, MO. “When the tractor needs to be used elsewhere, the bales are going to stay in the field.”

“With a GoBob self-loading/unloading trailer, I’m hauling in the bales without a tractor in half the time,” says McLerran. “That means I can get the bales out to the field faster. Using my pickup truck, I just back up the trailer with my pickup, unload the bales in rows then get another load. I save more time not having to unload the trailer with a tractor.” GoBob Pipe and Steel (www.gobobpipe.com) is a vendor of hay trailers, feeders, fencing, pipe and guards for farmers and ranchers.

If the development of a “bad side” to a bale is unavoidable, then creating two bad sides on the same bale is twice as wasteful. Since conventional hay trailers “dump” the hay while unloading, causing the bales to roll, they seldom end up on the original bad side. Therefore additional waste is created, even in well-prepared, uncovered storage lots.

Self-loading/unloading trailers do not roll the bales off to unload. For instance, a new trailer slated to be released by GoBob this summer, called the Bale Beast, picks up bales and can set them straight down where needed. Only the original side ever contacts the ground so no new bad sides are created.

Winter Feeding
While loading, moving, and unloading an entire trailer is efficient when bringing the hay bales in for storage, it is not when feeding cattle in winter. Because cattle are usually scattered in different pastures at this time, only a bale or two is usually placed in each location to prevent waste. With conventional hay trailers, however, the entire load must dumped all at once.

Ranchers have traditionally dealt with this issue by making excessive trips from the hay lot to the pasture, taking one or two bales at a time with a tractor or a pickup equipped with a special hay bed. But more trips to the fields requires more time, fuel, wear and tear, plus soil compaction, which reduces forage growth for later feeding.

To avoid this problem, self-loading/unloading trailers such as the GoBob Bale Beast allow a rancher to make a trip with up to ten bales, unloading a single bale or as many as necessary at a time.

Based on feedback from ranchers, the new trailer has an additional design modification that allows it to be loaded from the front or the back. Conventional hay trailers only load or unload from the back, which is more difficult and time-consuming.

While tractors are equipped with hydraulics, most pickup trucks are not unless they already have a bale bed. To make the benefits of this new generation of self-loading/unloading trailers more widely available, some like GoBob, offer portable hydraulics for use with pickup trucks.

Built Farm-Tough
Because hay trailers are pulled over rough terrain, including areas with ruts, berms, or potholes, carrying very heavy loads, the trailer itself must be built to withstand the abuse.

For farmers and ranchers that move a large quantity of heavy bales each year, that means purchasing a heavy-duty trailer. Trailers in this class, for instance, include the GoBob Red Rhino, which uses reinforced steel and can haul 10 bales, or the Red Ox, which is even stouter and built to handle 2,500 lbs. silage bales.

“We have to go over some rough ground in the pastures with ruts and potholes, and I can’t risk breakdowns when there is hay to be hauled in,” says Wade Penn, who moves about 5,000 hay bales a year for 650 head of cattle on his 5,000 acre Cross B Ranch in Byars, OK.

“In the five years we’ve used GoBob Red Rhino and Red Ox hay trailers, we haven’t had a single problem with them and they have performed well for us,” adds Penn. “In fact, the first year when everyone told us it would take a week to haul in 4,500 bales from the fields, we moved the bales in a weekend.”

A new entry into the heavy-duty hay trailer class is the double-wide trailer, which has recently been allowed on public roads. Some of these, like the GoBob Better Built Double Wide, can hold up to 14 bales and come with double jacks and a breakaway kit for safety.

When hauling fewer than 500 bales a year, farmers and ranchers may want to look for a hay trailer that’s built to be cost-effective, yet reliable, such as the GoBob Competitor, so named because of its competitive price.

Whether farmers and ranchers take advantage of next generation self-loading/unloading hay trailers to improve their productivity, or rely on the most reliable methods to move bales with the least downtime, it is time to reexamine how they operate to get the best results.

For more info, call 1-866-532-9123 or visit www.gobobpipe.com.

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