Hay Bale Orientation


Dinner Plate – Upright Round Hay Bale

Tootsie rolls or dinner plates. That’s how my friend Elizabeth described placing round hay bales. Oriented upright like in the photo above the pigs tear down the bale in about a day. A problem with this orientation is that rain soaks right in.


Tootsie Roll – Sideways Round Hay Bale

Oriented like this the pigs take about two to thee times as long to tear down the bale. Another benefit of this orientation is it sheds rain better – important if the bale is going to be there for very long in the warmer weather.

In the past I generally oriented the bales upright, although not always. It would be interesting to go through a year comparing the two orientations. I suspect we’ll also use less hay when we have the greenhouse finished. Either way we go through about a third to half an 800 lb round bale per pig per winter. That is about 0.8 lbs of hay per hundred weight of pig per day, round it up to a pound.

Keep in mind that this is a herd average over many sizes of animals over a long period. In reality the bigger pigs eat a bit more hay per 100 lbs of body weight than the smaller pigs. Bigger pigs have bigger jaws, longer digestive tracts and are better able to digest the hay. That said, even piglets munch down on the hay within a week or so of birth just as they do on grasses and herbs in the pasture during the warmer season. Of course, fresh pastures in the warm months are better than winter hay just as our fresh summer garden veggies and fruit are better than what we can for our own table to keep us eating over the winter.

I have heard one person say that round bales will collapse and kill the pigs. It has never happened here and I seriously doubt it would happen. The round bale weighs 800 lbs. In any vertical column the per unit weight is small. Furthermore due to triangulation of the forces each column of hay is supported by hay beside it intertwined with it. When the hay does sloth off it just cascades as a blanket down onto the pigs. They snuggle in to it, happy as a, well, a pig in a blanket.

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Pigs in Less Muddy Days

As can be seen in the first two photos, mud season is the worst. Right now the pigs are very muddy right even though we’re putting out lots of extra hay. Contrast this with the dry days of winter like in the photo above. Winter may be cold but at least it isn’t wet.

Mud season is the worst time on the farm and we’re in the middle of it. Right now it is snowing heavily. An hour ago it was raining. Nature can’t make up her mind as she transitions the seasons.

Lots of hay. Lots of hay. We’ll get through it to a better day.

Outdoors: 39°F/29°F 1/2″ Rain, 3″ Snow yesterday, Snowing as I write this
Farm House: 34°F/32°F
Tiny Cottage: 68°F/62°F Fire

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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23 Responses to Hay Bale Orientation

  1. ChristyACB says:

    My, they are a dirty bunch! I wonder if they prefer to not be muddy? I know a pet pig that gets very upset when dirty. She has to have her little tootsies wiped off when she comes in from a walk if it was damp or she’s cranky all day.

    Isn’t that funny? How different they are from what we would think? I wonder if your fellas are thinking the same thing.

  2. They like mud, in warmer weather, because it helps to keep them cool, moisturizes their skin, protects them from the sun and from insects. However I think the ones in the first two photos were glad to see the new hay. It’s 5 am and I’m about to go out to put out more hay. It just started raining, again. I think I preferred the snow we were getting last night.

  3. Kristin says:

    I had someone leave a comment recently about hay bales falling on sheep & goats. We feed 1000 lb round bales to our sheep as you do and have not had a problem.

    As you note, by the time the top falls over, the animals have eaten so much of the bale, there's just not much left to squish them.

    • Lauren says:

      A bale collapsed on one of my sheep. Im not sure he will survive it. They ate out the bottom corner and it fell to one side, he got trapped under. We found him probably a day later, he has been out from under it in the barn on fresh straw, he’s eating and drinking but still can’t stand. Likely has a broken leg, broken ribs and maybe even a compressed spinal column. We will see if he improves in the next day or two with meds and vitamins, but Im not sure. So we will be feeding differently now.

  4. Adam says:

    I wonder if anyone has ever actually had an animal crushed by a bale falling over or if they just worry about it. Did a bail fall over and not crush animals. Did bales just look like they might fall over. Based on physics there isnt much risk. A bale falling wrapped is a problem. A bale falling unwrapped from a signficant hight might be a problem. A unwrapped bale just falling over simply falls apart and melts over the animal. Ive seen that happen. They slide right out from under. No harm done. So is this a perceived possibility or are there any actual reports of animals crushed and killed by unwrapped round bales falling over. Keep in mind it wont fall over until enough has been eaten to cause it to unbalance.

  5. Diane says:

    I laughed when I realized that you did not have a herd of brown pigs I didn’t remember seeing in any photos before, but that you had muddy pink pigs.

  6. Aye, you’re right, most of them are white. We do have a few colored pigs: black, brown, yellow, red, saddled and spotted. It shows some varied genetic heritage. All American pigs.

  7. Lily says:

    Hello, this is a completely random comment. I just wanted to thank you for providing me with a night’s worth of interesting reading material. I’m about as far away from your way of life as a person could get (I live in urban Texas) but I really enjoyed learning about your farming techniques and especially your dogs. I don’t know how much free time you have to read, but I thought I would suggest one of my favorite books: Peter Jenkins’ Close Friends. Here is a link to the author’s site:

    http://www.peterjenkins.com/books_profile_CF.htm

    Reading your post about re-training your “killer” dog reminded me of Jenkins’ own struggle with his chicken killer dog. Anyway, sorry for the random comment but I thought I would thank you for writing the blog and tell you to keep up the good work!!

  8. OurCrazyFarm says:

    Just wanted to answer the commenter asking if there is anybody out there who actually had an animal killed by a round bale collapsing. Yes, unfortunately, we are one of them. During a heavy snow fall one of our 7 month old goats was killed when the half eaten bale collapsed. Very sad. Also use caution when feeding horses. One of our horses foundered after eating from a round bale, as some weed triggered a reaction, and unknownst to us she had free access to it from the round bale. Another reminder of round bales is to not let children play on or around them. They are very dangerous if they tip. One of our close friend’s daughter was killed this way. I will never look at a round bale the same way.

  9. How big were those bales and how wet were they? I’m wondering what makes it a problem in some cases and not others. The bales we use are 800 lbs and basically dry to the touch. They fall apart very easily – short fiber cutting. One year we did get wet bales, haylage, but I didn’t like it.

  10. Terry responded:
    The bales were 1,000 pounds or larger. Our bale was soaked from the snowstorm, which I am sure caused the collapse. It’s interesting that you raise your pigs on whey and cheese… My husband is a cheesemaker, and so that is how we raise ours, too. We have never fed hay tho. Will have to try that. Your right! The pork is most excellent! You can’t buy that in a grocery store! Terri

  11. Nancy says:

    Soaked with water could easily tripple the wait of the bale to 3000 pounds! That might be the issue there. I wonder how it was oriented since you say the dinner plate upright bales soke up more water than the sideways tootsie roll bales……

  12. Terri also wrote:
    Oh, forgot to say, in the accident of our friends daughter, two bales actually fell on two of their daughters at the same time. One was killed, one had only a small scratch on her face. Very tragic, but obviously God had his hand involved to have two such outcomes. Terri

  13. Terry, thank you for those two updates. Knowing of how things happened is important so we can all learn from these things. Best of luck with your new pigs. Ours love the whey too. Cheers, -Walter

  14. ~Tonia says:

    We lost a Goat kid to a bale falling her.. It was in the barn and the goats ad sheep had ate through the side of it till it got top heavy and it fell on her. They were about 800lb bales. We almost lost a lamb that way too. My girls just happened to hear something struggling in the hay… SO it does happen. Thats why Hay racks are good with the other animals. Our pigs didnt have that problem though. Of course we dont have little ones yet

  15. Hi Walter,

    I enjoy reading your blog so much, thank you for taking the time to write it.

    Love that picture with Goose standing on the pigs head!

    Michelle

  16. Toni says:

    Walter,
    Found your blog through sugar creek farm. I also raise hogs but on a much smaller scale, I have 3 sows right now. I also have goats, steers, chickens and I market garden. Really enjoy all the piggy talk. Good luck getting through mud season. We are in the midst of it in N. Idaho right now!

  17. Kylia says:

    Thanks for all the great articles. I really appreciate how you share what works, what doesn’t and the best way you’ve found to do things. Some blogs are so dismal, focusing on failure. I feel that with you I am learning. It is more interesting to read about what works because there are so many ways to make it not work.

  18. Brian says:

    I live in Chugiak, Alaska, and I just lost my second kid goat in 4 months to a hay bale collapse. I went out this afternoon to feed them, and I was missing two in the count. I recountedd, and then ran to the remaining half of the hay bale to lift it up. There I had one dead female goat about 11 months old, and another male just barely alive. He’s been out from under the hay bale about 8 hours now, and he’s still limping badly. I imagine he is bruised up badly, or has even broken some bones. Large round haybales are deadly to goats. I haven’t, though, lost sheep to them. I am looking for ways to eliminate this clear and present danger to my herd.

    • I have heard of this with goats from a few people. It may be due to the geometry of their bodies. We have never had any problem with our pigs, sheep, ducks, geese or chickens. I have seen cone feeders for round bales and maybe that is what would work well for goats. Give them a try.

  19. Farmerbob1 says:

    I’m curious to know if you have reached a conclusion about how to place the bales. I know you also posted a couple years ago about staking bales in a dinner plate orientation in one of the shelters (the ark?)

    What’s your current practice? Anything new to share?

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