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.