A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller
by Tony McQuail of Lucknow, ON
The reason for doing this winter fencing was that we wanted to try feeding our cattle outside for the winter to increase the nutrients available to this field in the spring and reduce the amount of manure we would have to deal with in the barn. To this end the plan was to feed hay in a systematic way on top of the snow moving across the field so that every area would receive a coating of manure dropped while the cattle were feeding and any waste hay materials. Our friends on the prairies lay out a grid pattern of large round or square bales before snow in the fall and then use their portable electric fencing to meter it out. We had experimented with leaving round bales outside and felt that in our more humid climate it was better to store bales under cover until they were to be fed. Our plan was to feed them daily or every other day and let the positioning of them distribute the fertility and the timing meter them out.
We had experimented with unrolling the bales the year before and had decided to make a device that would let us move them with the horses and then unroll them. I used square tubing to make a simple frame with two arms attached to a cross piece which connected to a tongue. Small diagonal braces made the arrangement rigid and the arms had a right angle piece of square tubing on their ends which allowed a pin to be driven into the middle of the round bale from each side. I have 4 x 4 bales and the pins penetrate about a foot. The pins act like an axle allowing the bale to roll. I first tried rolling the bale out to where I wanted to feed it. It worked well for distances under 500 meters but the axle “bearing” in the hay could get pretty sloppy when going a long way.
I made up a sleigh that goes under the bale for transportation and is held to the frame by two chains and a grab hook. I tie some bale twine to a link on each chain the same distance from the sleigh. This becomes my guide when I’m hooking the sleigh to the unroller. I take the chain with the hook over the cross piece of the roller around the tongue and back over the cross piece – I leave it slack and then hook the other chain in the lock hook so the two twines are at the same level. With the grab hook hanging down from the frame, and the other chain hung through it, gravity keeps the chains hooked until tension takes over. When I start off the chain tightens and the sleigh keeps the bale from rolling. With this system I can take the twines off the bale in the shelter of the pile or shed where the bales are stored, slide the bales out to where I want to unroll it, back the horses up to get some slack on the chains to unhook them and then walk on unrolling a 4 foot wide strip of hay until I get down to the small core of the bale. Then I pull the pins and store them in the side arms of the unroller (they fit nicely in the square tubing if you weld it so the side arms are open at the top.
I then haul the frame back to the sled and hook it back on. After a couple of times riding back on the sled I realized it would be a lot better to have it securely attached to the unroller frame rather than sliding forward and backward. I welded a couple of short pieces of square tubing to a 4 foot long piece of angle iron which I bolted to the front of the sled. Now when I get back to the empty sled I pull the two pins out of the arms and put them through the side brackets of the unroller and the square tubing at the front of the sled. I drilled a hole in each pin near the point and have some heavy spring pins which I push through the holes to lock the pins in position. I tied the two pins together with bale twine so I can kick them out and not lose them in the snow. It also keeps them together in my coverall’s pocket when I’m riding out with the bale. I flip the chains up onto the sled so they don’t drag underneath it.
Riding back on the rigidly attached sled is a lot more secure and has the added advantage that I can back the sled up to the next bale and get it in position with the horses rather than having to drag it around by hand. Once it is in position I kick out the spring clips, pull out the side pins and roll the next bale onto the sled. I back the horses up a little and lift the side arms so I can push the pins into the center of the bale on each side. I attach the chains to the unroller and then cut and pull the strings off the bale and I’m ready to feed my next bale.
We piled our bales at the edge of the field in a long row with a 6 bale cross section — 3 bales on the bottom, then two then one. We put the lower bales on skids to keep them off the ground. We covered it with a tarp, which kept most of the snow off, but did let the moisture and snow freeze to the two bottom bales on the outside. After a few times breaking bales loose with human powered digging bars we decided to use the horses. We used a heavy nylon rope with a big loop in it and a clevis at the end. We put the loop around the bale pushing the rope down behind the back of the bale and the loops up the side. I then back the unroller and sled up to the pile and use a light logging chain with a lock hook to attach to the clevis. I attach the grab hook to the chain that is dangling from my logging double tree which is attached to the bale unroller chain hitch with its grab hook.
I then walk away from the pile, the slack is taken up and the bale is popped off the pile or broken loose from the other bales or the skids that they sometimes freeze to. We can then position the bale onto the sled and hook up the unroller. If both Fran and I go out one of us works on positioning the rope on the next bale while the other feeds this one.
We have also used the sled and unroller to move hay when we are going to be away for an extended period of time and want to set the bales up in a grid which our neighbor can meter out with electric fencing. We set out the number of bales that would be fed for the week or ten days we will be away and then surround them with electric fencing. Our neighbor can then feed them out by shifting the fence. We have him feed two days worth at a time so that every animal no matter how dominant can get a belly full of hay and then hopefully the hay will get mostly cleaned up on day two. When we roll out the bales dominance isn’t such a concern because the feeding area is large but if the bales are still rolled up the feeding area is smaller and it is good to have several bales for them to work on and for the dominant cows to have full bellies while there is still lots of hay left for the second day.
A Versatile Chain Hitch for a Regular or Hook Clevis for the Logging Sleigh
One of the challenges when going to the bush in the winter was having to take a second double tree. My logging double tree is equipped with a swivel and a chain hook with a ring on it so I can pick it up easily to hook to a chain around a log. It took extra time and wasn’t really convenient to take the clevis and hook off the logging double tree so it could go on the sleigh — then when I got to the bush having to disconnect it from the sleigh and put the hook and clevis back on. I tended to use two double trees but I still had to disconnect the horses from the sleigh.
I decided to solve the problem by replacing my double tree strap with a chain with a flat piece of steel welded to the end of it — a hole the diameter of the double tree pin was drilled through the steel and the chain was welded to a short piece of 2 inch square tubing in such a way that the chain allows the hole in the flat piece to line up with the hole in the tongue. This way a regular double tree can be used on the sleigh with a pin or I can use the logging double tree hooked to the chain. When I get to the bush I just unhook from the chain and walk the horses off the tongue and I’m ready to skid logs. When I’m done I just step the horses over the tongue – put it through the neck yoke back them up and catch the chain with the hook and I’m ready to head back to the barn.
I also set up my bale unroller with a chain and only use the logging double tree with it. We stored the big round bales under a tarp back at the bush so we ride back to them with the sleigh and then switch the double tree onto the bale unroller. We loop a heavy piece of rope around a bale and then flip it out of the stack with the horses pulling on it. I also made a little sled which goes under the bale which allows me to take it to where I want to feed it. So after we get the bale off the pile we roll it on to the sled making sure that the hay is oriented to unroll. To move the bale the arms of the unroller are positioned on either side in the centre of the bale and then 2 foot long pins are pushed in from either side. There are two chains on the front of the sled which are hooked around the cross bar of the unroller. We cut and remove the bale twine from the bale. When the horses step forward the bale starts to roll off the sled until the chains get tight at which point the sled and bale move together and we head off to where I want waste hay, manure and urine to boost the fertility. When I get to where I want to start unrolling I back the horses to slack off the sled chains, unhook them and then walk forward unrolling the bale. Initially, I tried riding the sled back to the pile with only the chains holding it to the unroller — this was not very pleasant as it would slide up on the horses going down hill and was not very secure. So I built a bracket on the front of the sled out of a 4 foot length of angle iron and 2 short pieces of 1.5 inch square tubing which lets me use the bale pins to securely anchor the sled to the unroller. I drilled a hole in the hay pin so I can use a spring pin to lock it in place. This makes for a much nicer ride back to the hay pile and also means that it is rigid so I can turn it around and back it up to the pile. I use the hook from the chain to the bale rope to the unroller chain and then can pop the next bale off the pile without unhooking the sled — I position the bale, back the sled up to it and then pull the pins and move the arms up to the bale center and start the process over again.