Bale Grabber

Business End of John’s Bale Grabber

I would love to have a set of these bale grabbers for our tractor. John, the farmer who provides us with much of our winter hay, is able to use these to quickly unload his trucks and place the hay where I will need it in the winter paddocks. I could do it with my bucket and chain grab method but would be slower and rip more bale wrap.

Our tractor has the hydraulic controls for the grabber arms – the same ones I use for the 4-in-1 Jaws bucket. I have a spare hydraulic cylinder kicking around. With this in mind I was looking John’s grabber over very carefully. The mechanism is quite simple. With a bit of welding perhaps we’ll make one of these and save the almost $2,000 they cost new.

Hay is still being delivered as I write this. We’re at about the half way point. Our goal this year is to have 250 of the 4×4 800 lb round bales of 2nd through 3rd cut hay at about 75% moisture content. These smell slightly sweet, slightly alcoholly and feel dry. Some of the bales from an another farmer are wetter – we’ll see how that works. They smell more like fresh cut grass and feel wetter crisping up in freezing weather. The protein analysis is higher so John said that they may make very good feed. Something new. More towards haylage.

For a rule of thumb I figure on needing about half a round bale per pig per winter plus one round bale per sow farrowing in the winter. During the wet mud seasons on either side of winter we use more hay than during the long dry months of winter’s true cold. In the warm season they don’t need the hay at all. Better to buy too much than too little. Running out of hay is expensive. If I do buy too much then it will keep to get us started next fall.

We already have 150 small square 60 lb bales of mulch hay which is useful for starting deep bedding packs in the open winter sheds. The mulch hay is in addition to 150 small squares of good hay. These small bales are useful for hand distribution. We stack them ten or twelve on pallets so that I can easily move them around the farm with the tractor forks. Prior to being used we keep them tarped as a meta-block.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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13 Responses to Bale Grabber

  1. That looks pretty slick Walter. Are the bales wrapped completely on all sides with plastic? Is that why you can’t use a bale spear on the loader?

  2. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Some years back I was looking for a farm in Missouri, and saw my first triceratops-like triple round bale spears on pickups. I thought the local game of road chicken must be really extreme! Had it explained to me that one charges and brakes, skidding into the bale with the front of the truck dipped and after impalement occurs, the springs lift the bale the bit necessary to move it about. Sounds like silly and dangerous fun.

    I know you’ve probably read Louis Bromfield’s books about Malabar Farm. His was the first free range swine operation I ever heard about, using corn silage to feed swine in what would otherwise have been waste swampground, letting them free bear, and so on. Can you trench silage where you are? Have you enough corn ground to make it worthwhile? Bromfield’s operation used silos, but that is a horrific expense. to initiate.

    • I love the Triceratop pickup truck image!

      Local cow farmers do ensilage corn in trenches. I have never tried corn silage although I’ve spoke with a couple of people who do use it with their pigs. Our land is thin soiled, steep and rocky making it less than ideal for corn. Interestingly, in a 1942 arial photo I see that our north field was tilled. Examining it after seeing that photo I notice it has far fewer rocks than most of our pastures. A possible future planting space.

  3. chris swier says:

    hello Walter~

    If I understand correctly, you are feeding about 90% hay and finishing to butcher weights in 6-7 months.

    I am grain feeding, also hay. Finishing to butcher weights in 7-8 months. How would you recommend I encourage the pigs to eat more hay, less grain?

    Would you recommend a cold-turkey transition from grain to hay (with boar, sows, and few week old piglets)? I’d especially like to see this batch of piglets going more toward hay, and I’d not like to miss the opportunity before weaning.

    thanks for any and all input!


    • No, I would not suggest a “cold-turkey” transition. It takes time for their digestive tracks to adjust to new diets and to learn to eat new feeds. Additionally, our pigs have a culture of pasture and hay eating – the sows teach it to their piglets.

      If you are finishing in seven to eight months on grain then I suspect that your pig genetics are vastly different from our herds. Realize that we have been selecting for pasture pigs that do well on this diet. Genetics differ and that is very important. Given your experience I doubt you can make the transition to a feeding regime like ours in just one generation.

      That said, start introducing hay (not straw) in the AM and feeding the grain in the PM. This may help them eat more plant material. See the post Feeding Hay and also the post about our pigs diet. Things are not fixed on granite but vary with the season, availability, ages, etc.

  4. chris swier says:

    Thank you for all the info, and for the leads elsewhere on your site. Once again, such a valuable resource.

    Good food for thought (and for pigs).


  5. Walter

    Reading about your megablocks of hay. Do you have problems with condensation under the tarp? We tried this method this year and ended up loosing most of the top two layers of hay due to rot.


    • Condensation under the tarp hasn’t been a problem for us but it may well be in other climates. Put pallets down on the ground, even a double layer to give air circulation, pack the hay loosely, put pallets on top, then tarp. It may be that because we do this it makes it so we don’t have a problem with moisture. Also maybe your hay was wetter than ours. We also get a lot of wind. That could make the difference.

  6. Farmerbob1 says:

    Now that the first phase of the butcher shop is complete, have you reconsidered making your own bale grabbers? If it was worth thinking about before, it may be more attractive now after all the experience Will got with metalworking on the butcher shop.

    • It’s on the list, to buy used, new or make. They are a very handy tool and our tractors are already setup for the necessary hydraulics.

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        Tractors, plural? Did I miss something, or are you just not commenting on a new piece of equipment until after you’ve had time to play with it?

        • Very good. You have sharp eyes. :) Yes, we have two tractors, there’s a JD4700 and a JD4720. They’re very similar. I liked one and got a second. It’s primarily for the same reason we have two Ford E-350 vans, one is a backup incase the other has mechanical trouble. This has come up at times and made me very glad to have the backup equipment. Sometimes we also are using both tractors at once and it lets us both get more done and sometimes do things that one tractor could not accomplish alone such as lifting something very heavy. We can have our own tractor pull contests… :)

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