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The Economics of Small Squares vs. Round Hay Bales

Round Hay Bale: USA Belting www.usabelting.comFor hay producers, is the large round bale more economical than the small square? Because of all the variables involved, there’s no easy answer.

Round Hay Bales

Certainly, the big ton bales are increasingly popular among American hay farmers. The total equipment investment for producing round bales is typically less than for small bale production. When it comes to baling and stacking hay on comparable acreage, round bale producers may need only two thirds of the manpower required for the small squares.

The big bale producer also enjoys a time advantage. Because small squares require more drying time between cutting and baling, the window of opportunity for harvesting hay can be quite limited, especially in wet, cool climates.

Small Square Hay Bales

Small squares, however, may have the edge when it comes to spoilage. Significant quantities of small bales store with relative ease — without specialized equipment — in even modest barns. Protection against precipitation and sunlight retains the hay’s food value for longer. Indoor storage of large numbers of ton bales are not feasible for many farms – so many producers store their hay outdoors. Without covers, those bales can incur storage losses of 10 percent — due to spoilage; plus bale covers add to the production costs.

The Hay Market

The final determinant is the market. If the hay producer’s customers are sizable cattle farms, large round bales make sense. If he’s selling to small livestock farms, 50-pound square bales are the better option.

Horse owners, for example, often lack the equipment needed to work with ton bales.  Horses are also more vulnerable than cows to the molds that grow in the huge bales, when set outside, even in hay-rings. For these reasons many horse owners boycott round bales and quite willingly pay the much steeper price (per pound) of small squares.

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