To Unroll or Not to Unroll? What Gives the Most Bang for the Buck When Bale Grazing?

The other day my buddy, Steve Kenyon, and I were discussing why concentrated bale grazing is so superior for pasture rejuvenation versus unrolling bales. Steve is the author of ‘The Calendar of the Year-Round Grazier,' teaches a course on how to graze year-round, and has been bale grazing for more than 20 years. Steve is a pretty smart guy and I respect his opinion. I have been bale grazing for almost as long as Steve and we have the same conclusion, that rolling out bales does not improve pasture the way concentrated bale grazing does. But why? Steve believes it is because of the litter left on the soil after we bale graze. He feels that the litter is as important as the nutrients deposited. When we unroll bales, there are sufficient nutrients deposited, however, not much residue is left to cover the soil. I can’t say for sure that Steve is correct in his reasoning, but I certainly do agree with him. When I talk about bale grazing, I am always referring to concentrated bale grazing. That means bales are placed in the pasture in rows, and then "strip grazed" in much the same way you might graze a pasture. In the video below, you can see our set up. We use electric fence and posts stuck into the bales themselves to section off bales for grazing. https://youtu.be/Rcj3quZ5T-0 For some reason, placing bales out every few days in a haphazard manner does not produce the same effect as setting up rows. It seems as though there must be a certain concentration before a

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8 thoughts on “To Unroll or Not to Unroll? What Gives the Most Bang for the Buck When Bale Grazing?

  1. Hi Tom,
    Could you give a little more info on how you used your horses to move round bales? I’m imaging a bale unrolled just hooked to a horse, but am Interested in the particulars of how that connection between horse and ‘tongs’ works.
    This past winter I kept thinking ‘the horses should be doing this’ because they stand around doing nothing most of the time and the 95 HP tractor we use *gasp* I’d love to get rid of.
    Think you could include a picture?
    We have Quarter horses and halflingers (I’d use the halflingers, the quarter horses would be mortified to have to drag something).
    Does this work when you have 2 or 3 feet of snow on the ground?
    Thanks!
    Albert

    1. Hey Albert. I don’t have a pic of the unit we used and it was given away once we started bale grazing. However, picture a large set of ice tongs. It worked well for unrolling, but not moving because the bales had to roll and sometimes the twines came off before getting to the proper location. I guess it would work much better with net wrap. There is a great invention of a unit that has no winch or motor and is pulled by a couple of halfingers if you utube ‘Horse-drawn round bale mover’. Our quarter horse don’t mind pulling things, they are just embarrassed when they have to herd hogs!lol

  2. We have roof cover for all our bales and it practically eliminates waste in the field with ring feeders. The best place to store hay is in the barn. How much waste do you get leaving these bales in the field all winter? A lot from my experience. My barns paid for themselves a long time ago with better animal performance and waste reduction. The animal waste is in the right place and is spread out evenly with daily moves of the rings.

  3. I am curious where the author is located. I am in Tennessee where we have a lot pf winter rain, little snow. Our hay would degrade pretty rapidly sitting out in the weather.

  4. Bales don’t really roll onto sheep unless they are on their way down a hill anyway. We feed bales on pasture for a month or more each year, but bring them out individually as needed. I’m not a fan of this system. Sheep will waste quite a lot of hay by standing on the bale and spoiling it. Bale feeders substantially reduce waste. The next summer, we find that areas buried under waste hay produce much less forage than undisturbed areas. The following year it can catch up, depending on which species survive and how wet the field is. Drier areas respond better than in wetter areas.

    Bruce
    Bobolink Farm, E Montpelier VT

  5. It’s been my experience that bales need to be placed on end for sheep. Otherwise, there is a chance that it will roll on the sheep. Not a concern for cows and calves but certainly one for ewes and/or lambs.

  6. Excellent analysis. Thank you for your perspective. In our heavy snow load, perpetual Novembers and cool season grass area, I’ll have to think harder.

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