The purpose of this project was to build and test a prototype round bale feeder wagon that worked well with longer horned cattle breeds. Since these cattle ate well between fences, I planned and had constructed a wagon with movable side rails for vertical adjustment and sliding horizontal rails for good bale utilization. I then tested various positions of these rails and made a few corrections in design, finally coming up with a fixed spacing (24”) that reduced waste and gave the cattle few problems accessing the hay.
Hay losses due to trample and defecation are down an estimated 80% over on the ground feeding- that means less cost in making, loading, and spreading wasted hay. At least 25% less hay by volume is being wasted and thus consumed by the cattle. There is more convenience in loading the wagon at weekly intervals, instead of daily. Also a benefit for the cattle- because the cattle spread out around the wagon; there is less ability of the dominant ones to eat wile keeping the others out, as often happens on a single round bale. The results are all ages get to eat whenever they choose all around the wagon.
The cost of the wagon totaled $2700.
The goal of this project was to build a round bale feeder wagon and experiment with different side settings that would also slide inward to allow a better, less wasteful way, to feed cattle with horns. We farm 130 acres plus rent some land in northern ny, and keep about 25 scotch highland cattle in a grass hay, pasture based, cow/ calf operation. We like the highland breed for its superior meat, gentle disposition, grazing ability and cold tolerance.
Our technical advisor is Mike Baker of Cornell University reviewed our grant and approved the need for it. We started the grant with ideas and a sketch, a used wagon running gear, then had Mud Lake Stalls LLC build the wagon making some structural modifications based on their experience. I then brought the wagon home and loaded it with round bales set the side rails to the highest point and began making observations and recording the feeding habits of the cattle and modifying the wagon in response to design flaws.
Here is a summary of the observations and changes:
Oct 4 Week 1
First trial I set the side rails at max opening 34”. I then loaded the wagon with 6 bales. I discovered the need for side end supports when the sides are opened. I was observing cows and day one they pulled the sides off. I need to add chains to keep the sides from sliding off. During the week as the cows ate the center of the bales, they collapsed and fell out the sides. The cows ate the wagon empty by Monday.
Oct 11 Week 2
I welded the chains to keep the sides from sliding off, then dropped the top rail down 6” to 28” opening and filled the wagon.
Week 2 and 3
I dropped the top rail 6’ each loading time with little changes. I realized the need to build a stand to set the rails on while opening the sides to load the feeder as the end slides are too weak. I observed that the wagon should open wider as the bales need to be about perfectly level to easily close up the sides. Hay losses do to cows stepping on good hay on the ground is down though.
Weeks 4thu 7 I was feeding poor quality hay with lots of out side spoilage so it was difficult to determine good hay utilization
Week 8 – I adapted a stand to support the rails system when open and loading the wagon. I also considered having spacers added to move up the bottom rail. I noticed when the cattle pulled back on the rails sometimes they slip over the edges of the bale supports and then will not be able to be pushed in with out lifting them.
Week 9, 10- I had spacers made to move the bottom rail up 2 inches. The top rail seems to be as low as it can go. In spite of setting the screws, the animals use their horns to push it up out of their way and sometimes have succeeded in getting the rail off the ends altogether. Hay utilization is good at this setting.
Week 11 -12 I installed the spacers to move up the bottom rails 2 inches. This cured the problem of the rails slipping over the edges and as a bonus the rails slid inward easier over any frozen waste hay the remained on the bale supports. As the weather turned very cold the out side edges of the outside stored bales that the cows had eaten the center out of dropped down to the floor of the wagon and froze. I had great difficulty pushing them through the support rails. I think spacing these rails farther apart than the 24” they are presently at in a future wagon would help with this problem.
I also tried loading the wagon without opening the side up and found it works very good when you spear the bales close to the top and set them in place. In the future I will not open the sides at all and simply load it from the top.This would allow you to use somewhat stronger side rails, as there would be no need for a person to lift the rails weight when opening. My final determination for best utilization of the side rail positions for 4×4 or 53” bales was to place the bottom rail 24” from the ground, the top rail at 24” above that for highland sized cattle. Someone with taller cattle or 5’ bales may want to add a third rail above my top one to keep the bales upright during transport, and while they are being eaten, or possibly raise both side rails up-but a 24 inch spacing between rails seems to work the best. The economic benefits are somewhat difficult to put an exact dollar figure on but can be listed: Hay losses due to trample and defecation are down an estimated 80% over on the ground feeding- that means less cost in making, loading, and spreading wasted hay. At least 25% less hay by volume is being wasted and thus consumed by the cattle. There is more convenience in loading the wagon at weekly intervals, instead of daily. Also a benefit for the cattle- because the cattle spread out around the wagon; there is less ability of the dominant ones to eat wile keeping the others out, as often happens on a single round bale. The results are all ages get to eat whenever they choose all around the wagon.
The cost of the wagon totaled $2700. $500 was the used running gear; and the remaining $2200 was having Mud Lake Stalls Inc. build and paint the wagon. I feel that a farmer with some welding skills and unused running gear could construct their own wagon at a worthwhile savings. A general parts list is included with the photo’s.
I have sent out a description of the project with photo’s to “Farm Show” and “Country Folks” magazines. Both have contacted me and are during articles on the wagon. I have also contacted Scotch Highland breeder assoc. about an article. I have expect to have contact in the future with other farmers that wish to build similar wagons to share information in building their own versions of the wagon.
My first step will be to take my sketches to a local fabricator and construct a basic, open bottomed, round bale carrier wagon utilizing a used wagon running gear’s front and rear axles. Then sides, with the ability to slide together from 81/2 feet to 4 feet wide using two sizes of square tubing that each slide into each other, will be attached. This will allow the cattle to push in the sides as they consume the bales. Each side rail will be adjustable for horizontal spacing height. The rear ends of the back of each side will be hinged to open for bale loading.
I intend to feed the cattle and observe/record observations of whether the bales are being fully eaten or if there is a lesser percent remaining. I will monitor to determine how well all ages of cattle utilize the bales and interact with the feeder. I plan to make adjustments to the side rail spacing and various heights to best suit cattle needs. After some time, I should be able to determine what exact spacing and height will provide the optimum feeding and should anticipate reduced stress to the cattle from the previous dilemma of having their horns getting stuck in the rails of past feeders.
Outreach involves sharing of the written description of results, final sketches including any modifications needed after observations, plus photos to websites of horned cattle breeds. These can be submitted with a short article to “Farm Show Magazine”, and “Northeast Farming” which includes my contact e-mail for further information. It will allow other farmers to use my results to construct their own similar bale wagons.