Round bales vs. Large square bales: what shape is the best for your operation?
In some regions, making large square bales is relatively uncommon. In other regions, many farms or ranches work exclusively with square bales. Whether you work with one type of bale or both, let’s analyse the pros and cons of these two shapes.
First, a bit of History …
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, most hay was put up in small square bales (also called conventional bales in some parts of the world). These small rectangular-shaped bales usually weighed 20-25 kilos (50-60 pounds). They were shaped in a way that they could be stacked by hand in a hayloft or barn until they were needed.
Starting in the 1970s, new machinery caused a revolution in haymaking. Large round balers and soon large square balers became available, starting with the first modern round baler, the 605 manufactured by the Vermeer Company in 1972. The first large square baler has been introduced a bit later on, in 1978 by Hesston. Today, much of the hay put up across western countries is in large, round bales – becoming bigger and heavier every decade – and the use of large square bales is developing more and more.
- Agricultural equipment dedicated to round bales (harvesting, handling, feeding) is more widespread. As a result, it is easier and cheaper to obtain them (new or second-hand).
- While they are still susceptible to spoiling in the rain, the large size of round bales means that less hay will be affected if a rainstorm hits before they are transported undercover. Some farmers even leave the bales in the fields after baling, often with covers to try to give them a little protection.
- In terms of harvesting costs, regardless if you make your own hay or if a contractor makes your hay, round bales seem to win the game as the round balers are often less expensive (brand new or second hand). However, using nets (for round bales) instead of strings (for square bales) is more expensive, yet faster and providing with a better result.
- Round bales are less stable, more difficult to transport and stack. More and more truck companies and contractors refuse to transport round bales due to road safety regulations.
- Most studies show that about 20% of space is lost on a round bale pile. This 20% difference corresponds mainly to gaps between the bales. Therefore an increase of the same amount of investments for storage (if stored in barns). However, these spaces also have a storage ventilation function.
- Large square bales have a much higher density compared to the rounds. Each square bale is often well homogeneous and the volume is well optimised (depending on the gear you use and the quality of the hay/straw, of course).
- Baling square bale is a “non-stop” operation while baling rounds requires the operator to stop to eject the bale from the baler. Some farmers therefore consider that it is quicker to bale in squares, but it should be borne in mind that, contrary to appearances, twines takes longer to be put than a net wrap (used on round bales).
- Squares bales are perfectly suited for transport and stacking and the storage space required (either outside in a covered stack or inside in a barn) is optimised.
- Large square balers are often more expensive to buy than round balers. Also, not a lot of feedout equipment is able to handle square bales, unless you’ve got a Hustler Chainless bale feeder that can do both!
- Square bales are very prone to moisture absorption in case of bad weather conditions. Moreover, once stored their drying is very limited and there is more risk of temperature rise if the hay has been baled in damp condition.
- Square bales are more stable when stacked. This is better for your safety, your employees’ safety or even your kids who might get the idea to go and play on the bale stacks!
Which solution is the right for you?
Using the round or square bales is above all a personal choice that depends directly on the use you make of it.
Not very sensitive to weather conditions
Gear easy to find
Less optimised for transport
Larger storage volume
More sensitive to weather conditions
No storage ventilation
With the droughts we have experienced in recent years, many farmers have been forced to buy hay or straw unexpectedly. Unfortunately, as demand was high, it was not always possible to find hay or straw in its preferred form. In this respect, it is interesting to invest in equipment capable of handling and feeding out both shapes.
Softhands® LX200 bale handler
For round & square bales
Trailed and Mounted Chainless bale feeder
For round & square bales
There are hay producers who continue to produce small square bales. Most of them do this primarily for the convenience of customers that buy their hay. If someone has a horse and needs hay, small square bales are a more acceptable size for use. But did you know that you can easily re-bale your large round bales into small square bales? Find out more here.