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Follow organic dairy farmer Jonathan Gates as he reports weekly from his Vermont family farm. Howmars Farm is a certified organic dairy farm, one of many Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative farmer members who supply the milk that goes into making Stonyfield's yogurts and smoothies. The entire family pitches in on this third-generation farm. Check out some of the happenings on his farm and post your comments. Jonathan loves to get feedback from readers.

Round or square, the cows and heifers don't care

Oct6a A reader of the blog wondered why some hay is put up as round bales and some is put up as square bales. Here on Howmars Farm, we use both types in our feeding system for the animals. The round bales, 1200-1500 pounds, are usually fed to the cows and older heifers, while the small, 30-40 pound square bales are fed to the younger stock.

I think round balers came into this area maybe in the 1980's. Before that, all dry hay, hay that was at least 85% dry matter, was baled with square balers. Most farmers around here used balers that produced bales weighing 30 to 50 pounds. A 40-pound bale is sort of considered the standard for a square bale. Relatives of mine would make small bales, around 20 pounds, and they would toss them around with pitchforks. There are large square balers that will make bales that weigh several hundred pounds. We use the square bales in the youngstock barn since it is easy to bring in a few bales at a time to feed in the confined area. When most barns around here were stanchion barns, square bales were easiest to bring in to feed the animals.

Round bales, and now the large square bales, can be baled as dry hay or can be baled at a high moisture level, wrapped in plastic, and allowed to ferment. With farms increasing in size, and barns being of the freestall type, the larger bales made feeding the animals faster and easier. Putting up the hay in the larger bales made it easier for the farmer and required less manpower. If you are making dry hay, whether small or large bales, you need at least 3 days of good, dry, sunny weather. If you are making large square or round bales of high moisture hay, baleage, then you only need two days, or sometimes one to make good forage. This really helps, especially in a summer like the one we just had where good hay days were hard to come by.

Oct6b Which type of hay bale you use on your farm would depend on the size of your farm, what type of animals you are raising, what type of barn you have, how much help you have, and how much acreage you have to harvest. We find that a combination of both works best on our farm.

Got a question for farmer Jonathan? Write it here using the "comment" button just below.


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Why do you want to let the hay ferment when it is wrapped in plastic?

I'm starting to think making hay is like making wine/beer...

I'm guessing fermenting hay is like making a good mulch? Traps in moisture and heat in the process maybe? I'm just guessing...

I'm just a city slicker.


I was wondering what you think about round bale haulers, such as the ones Go Bob's manufactures? I would like to know what the demographics a farmer needs in order to consider purchasing such a product. Thanks,
Jadeen Schultz

Oh that's good use and utilization there.

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