Feeding Round Bales By Hand

Initially one might think he could simply start pulling hay off a round bale with ease.  However, this technique soon gets difficult and frustrating.  The result is increasing problems farther down into the bale as he progresses.

There has to be a better way.

And there is.


To start, the bale is going to be sitting one of two ways and this will constitute which technique is used.  It will either be sitting upright on it’s flat end, or on roll. Once you decide which way your bale will be positioned, you can then employ one or multiple of the following techniques.

Figure out which way your bale is rolled

Round bales are essentially a spiral of hay.  Determining which direction this spiral goes determines which direction you will unroll it.

The most effective way (in our opinion) is to have your bale on end (sitting on one of the flat parts).  Find where your roll starts, and unwind it in that direction as you feed.

If your bale is on it’s side (the round part), determining direction of roll isn’t as important, but is still helpful. If you’re in a confined space (such as a manger), having your bale on it’s side can be a good work-out routine.

You will only be able to feed from the top down, which can be a tedious and time-consuming process as you can only remove a layer at a time (think of peeling an onion  that’s laying on it’s side).  Once you’ve got to the middle, then you will start removing the layers from the middle outwards, and it will be a bit easier.

Stick to the layers.

Start at the bottom if your bale is sitting on the flat end

While starting at the top would appear to be a good idea, soon you are left with several layers of hay at the bottom of the bale that really won’t want to come apart.

You will save time and effort by starting at the bottom and working your way around.  After you remove a circle of hay on the bottom all the way around, take what’s above it.  Clean up the excess that has fallen down.

Once you’ve done this, start again with another layer on the bottom, then work up, then clean up, and repeat until you’re done with the bale.

Use an ax

So what about that two foot diameter rock-hard core you wind up with?  Split it with an ax from one end to the other like a hot dog bun.  (Use caution and be safe when you do this.) 

It is best to make a shallow slice the entire length, and then go back to the beginning side and make another full-length slice, and then a third (if necessary). It is better to make several shallow full length slices, than trying to make one deep cut to get through it.  It will be easier and safer.

Do not use your chainsaw.  The redneck in me must tell you, that although it does work, it’s really bad for the saw.

One last option…

If you have the means (i.e. a tractor), and the terrain (i.e. a steep hill), cutting the strings or net-wrap and letting the bale roll down the hill is a fun and highly effective means to get the job done quickly.  Make sure your bale will unspiral as it goes down the hill, because otherwise, you just wind up with a round bale at the bottom of the hill.  Also, make sure there are not people or cows (or horses, sheep, dogs, etc.) in front of the bale.  I promise you that they cannot move quick enough to get out of the way.

Feeding round bales by hand. Yes, there really are some tricks to make it easier.

Following these minor tips will save you time, effort, and frustration.

To see if round bales are right for you, check out Which Bales Do You Choose.



  1. My father knew someone who modified his tractor with almost a forklift style fork and speared it in the middle to unroll it like toilet paper for his herd. Texas doesn’t have hills to roll down sadly.

  2. Such helpful information! Pinned for future reference.

  3. I see bales like this all around and never really thought much about how they get undone–except, of course, the ones that were close enough for the cows to help themselves!

  4. We don’t have any hills either, but I tip my bale then use the spike or bucket to unroll it all over the pasture. if you have the tip almost at the ground it works like a charm.
    Also, I tie a piece of twine around the bale after I pull a few rounds off. This keeps the rest of the bale from unrolling and making a huge mess.
    Putting a tarp or a board over the top end of the bale ( when its on end) keeps the core from getting moldy if you get rain or melting snow.

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