Back in 1999 when we first started leasing idle land for grazing that needed serious fertility, I designed my first bale unroller.
We had all these old farms that had been stripped of their fertility by folks continuously haying them every year without putting back any nutrients. We did not have any money to fertilize anything, so we custom grazed other folks cattle and wintered their cows on our newly leased soil bankrupted farms. The cattle owners bought the hay, we unrolled it for their cows across our worn out farms.
Within one year you could see a major difference in the grass species. Former broomsedge fields on these worn out farms were now cranking out beautiful diverse mixes of forages.
It did not take me long to think up a better way of unrolling hay after pushing a few by hand down a hill by myself in the dark after getting off work at night. My heart felt like it was going to come out of my chest from the exertion it took to get one moving down the hill! Several bales made their own path over a bluff and into a creek. One took out a perimeter fence, snapping off numerous wooden posts.
My first bale unroller had to meet several design challenges. It had to be light, yet strong enough to unroll an 1800 pound round bale on pasture without leaving destructive ruts. I wanted minimal tongue weight so that it would be balanced, allowing one person to easily hook it up. It had to be very strong to take the abuse of unrolling an 1800 pound bale over rough terrain without breaking down. Since we did not have a tractor, the bale unroller had to be flexible enough to be used with an ATV or pickup.
My bale unroller design also had to beat the price of other unrolling solutions, and not cause some of the problems they cause. Hydra beds for pickups will run from 8- 12,000 dollars depending on the brand you purchase. Plus you have to buy the flatbed and then pickup to put it on. Tractor 3-point hitch bale unrollers work but leave huge ruts in wet pastures while compacting your pasture soil. With a 700 lb ATV we can feed 350 head of cattle with no problem using our bale unroller and there are no ruts or compacted ground left behind.
I still have, and use, that original bale unroller. We also get tons of requests for a reliable bale unroller that is easy to use yet economical to buy. So, thanks to popular demand, I have decided to start manufacturing and selling them – with some updates that make the original design even better, making it easier to use and stouter than the original.
The new “Greg Judy Bale Unroller” is made from new rectangular steel. The tongue is longer which makes it easier to back up to the bale. The pivot point on the axle is machined to a much tighter tolerance than my first design. The lifting mechanism is a geared boat winch that has been moved back toward the bale to keep it from interfering with the ATV on tight turns. The chains that hold the spike in the bale are heavy duty log chains.
Why Unroll Bales?
The question you may be asking yourself is why would I want to bother with unrolling a round bale when I can just set them out in the pasture with a bale ring around them?
There are several reasons why bale rings are inferior to unrolling the big round bales out on your pasture. With a bale ring all your valuable nutrients are spread in a 30-foot circle around the ring and the soil is getting severely compacted around the ring. It’s like taking a jack hammer and beating the heck out of your pasture a million times until the sod collapses leaving you with mud soup around the bale ring. If the ground is frozen all winter, you would not have this effect.
It seems like each year though we are getting more frequent warm spells that thaw the ground out which is a perfect recipe for mud soup and sod destruction. In wet conditions a group of cattle around a bale ring will absolutely punch through the sod and that area will take years to recover. Worse yet, you will have a nasty ring of weeds growing there for many years where there was formally a nice grass sod. If you drive over that winter bale ring area the next summer on your ATV or pickup truck, better hold on to your teeth! You might even get tossed off your ATV.
By feeding hay in a bale ring, only 15 or so cows can get around the ring to eat from it. Bale rings are also a very dangerous place for a baby calf to lay down at when it is dark, cold and wet. The cows can trample the calf into the mud by fighting for their spot around the bale ring not even recognizing the baby calf under their feet. Not the best way to manage your baby calves if you are wanting to make a living with your cow herd.
Finally, heavy duty bale rings are expensive to buy and heavy to move. I have not seen a bale ring yet that a group of cows cannot tear up if given a couple years. Have you bought a new bale ring lately? They carry a pretty good price tag on them.
The argument we hear from folks against unrolling hay, is that the cattle waste too much of it by walking, manuring and laying on it. It simply is not waste when you feed your soil microbe’s valuable organic matter that allows them to thrive on your farm. This trampled hay is your savings account and it will pay you back some nice interest in the form of much more grass growth in the coming spring and the years following. Think of it as a deposit that is paying you back interest (more grass). Every 1800 pound big round bale has $40 – $60 worth of valuable nutrients in it and you need to take advantage of that by spreading these nutrients across your farm.
When you unroll an 1800 lb bale of hay in a wind row across your pasture, many more cows can all line up and eat from one bale. Also the younger calves have much better access to it and don’t have to compete against an older cow pushing them away from the bale ring. The urine, manure, hay, and animal impact is spread out in a nice even area across your farm. This area will be visibly more productive than areas that did not have hay unrolled on them. You will also catch more rainwater on these unrolled areas as well.
Here’s How the Unroller Works
When you unroll the hay bales, seeds from inside the bale are being spread across your farm during the unrolling action. The cows are doing all the work of incorporating all this wonderful fertility into your soil which will pay you back many fold in the years to come. Your earthworms will have a wonderful smorgasbord to dine on as well in the spring. In turn, they’ll leave behind wonderful earthworm castings that make healthy plants grow like rockets. Oh yes and you can safely drive your ATV across your summer pastures the following year without losing your teeth!
You have animals that have 4 cloven hooves that massage the ground with each step, so for goodness sake use them.