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The economics of round bales.

Can a small-scale livestock operation afford to feed round bales versus square bales? Let's look at a comparison.

A round bale contains between 30-40 square bales, depending on the diameter, length and density. Locally a standard round bale sells for $10-$15 picked up in the field. Square bales out of a barn sell for $1.25 to $2 each or about $1 each if picked up in the field.

Using the out-of-the-barn prices, a standard round bale containing the equivalent of 30 square bales is worth $37.50 to $60, and one containing the equivalent of 40 square bales is worth $50 to $80. Even allowing for some spoilage due to weathering if the round bales were stored outside that is still quite a cost difference.

Based on the above a close neighbor putting up round bales may well be delighted to put up, store and then deliver round bales as needed for say $25 per bale. You would make it worth their while and you would be getting hay for half or less over square bale cost even disregarding the hassle of handing square bales.

Some tips on feeding round bales:

* Invest in a heavy-duty hay ring. The price difference over a standard one won't be very much.

* Horses require a different round bale feeder than cattle. Feeders for horses will not have a top ring, but rather hairpin-type loops coming up from the bottom panel as they prefer to feed down, rather than having to stick their head between panels with a top ring.

* Buy a hay ring as tall as possible to prevent cattle from either having to bend their neck excessively or having them pick up the ring with their shoulders and moving it off the hay pile.

* Buy a ring with feet as it is much easier to lift than one with a full ring on the ground. Admitted, this has its drawbacks as seen in the accompanying photo.

* I like to feed three bales in the same place if the weather hasn't been so damp the animals are creating a swamp around the ring. As the first two bales get low I climb inside the ring and kick the hay in the center to the sides. It's somewhat of an odd feeling to be in a ring with as many cattle as openings eating hay on all sides of you.

* I've found when I do move the ring the cattle will still eat about half of what's left, using the remainder for bedding. That's fine with me. What hay they don't eat acts to insulate them from ground moisture and temperature resulting in their using less energy to stay warm at night. Using less energy means less feed I have to provide to keep them at a desired level of performance.

* You can improve pastures by feeding out hay in poor areas, such as on rocky ground or in a briar patch. The unused hay will act as organic mulch, the manure around it will act as fertilizer, and in the case of the briar patch, the livestock will kill most of them by their hoof action.

One trick is to broadcast a hard seed, such as clover, around a hay ring and let livestock step it into a seedbed as they feed. (I also mix a little clover seed in loose minerals to have the cattle spread it around the farm.)

* When buying round baled hay the first cutting will normally have a higher percentage of legumes, but would have more spoilage than the last cutting due to summer rains.

* Try to look at a field from where your hay will be cut just prior to cutting (whether round or square baled). If it contains a large number of weeds in the seedhead state, those weeds are likely to be transferred to your property. Livestock will eat some weeds when young and tender.

* Don't keep hay available at all times. I like to wait a day or two between putting out bales as it forces the cattle to clean up more of the previous bale than they would otherwise and to scrounge whatever is available in their pasture area. I call cows being provided as much feed as they want "welfare cows." I work for a living and expect my cows to do so also. It's amazing what they will eat when a little bit hungry. However, unless your perimeter fencing is good, the neighbor's lawn or field may look "greener" enough to cause them to go through the fence.

If you have enough livestock to justify it, and are now feeding out a number of square bales each winter, consider the economics of having round bales delivered as needed instead.

Lest I be accused of underfeeding my cattle, I plan on their losing some weight during winter to get them in good condition to go into the next spring and calving season. In my area when calves come after about mid-March the cows have had access to early spring pasture for a couple of weeks and will be on good pasture to both rebreed and raise their calves. For last year's calves I'm more interested in them building frame and muscle during winter so they pop out their second summer. My bulls do get free-choice hay during winter since they have been separated in a small pasture.
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Title Annotation:bales of livestock feed
Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1996
Previous Article:Yes, Jersey bulls make good beef!
Next Article:Let your lawn feed your livestock.

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