A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

July 8, 2008

Big Bales versus Small Bales The Verdict is in

Last year we fed our alpacas from big round bales of hay, we were unable to find small square bales in our area and we were curious as to how the big round bales would work in an alpaca operation. We ended up feeding two different types of hay in the big bale form, one had a higher protein value than the other. The lower protein hay we put out a whole big bale at a time in the alpacas pasture. The higher protein hay we forked off the bale and only put out a certain amount twice a day.

We fed from big bales for a whole year, now we have purchased our hay for the rest of this year and this time it is in the small square bales. Going back to the small bales has highlighted the pros and cons of using big bales. So what have we discovered on the subject of feeding big bales or small bales? Here are our thoughts and observations.

§ The big bales are typically cheaper to buy, but we feel there is more wastage. During our time of feeding the big bales we did not use a specially designed big bale feeder and discovered that the alpacas and the llamas love to rub against and climb on the big bales causing the hay to fall onto the ground. We did end up putting a panel around the big bale to keep the hay contained, but it still seemed as if there was a lot of wastage.

§ You don’t want to have the waste hay from a big bale around your pastures just before shearing. The alpacas love to roll in it, their owners do not love having to pick all of that hay from their fleeces.

§ The waste hay can be used for bedding in your trailer, and the alpacas love to lie on the waste hay in the pasture.

§ The big bales need more specialized equipment to move. They are very heavy and you cannot possibly move them without using a tractor or specialized big bale hauler.

§ The lower protein big bales were a good source of “noshing hay” for the alpacas during the day. As we are a dry lot operation having a big bale available 24/7 in each pen meant that the alpacas had constant source of grazing.

§ If a big bale starts to mold there is not much you can do to stop the rest of the bale from molding. We had that happen with one of the last big bales we had and we were unable to feed it to the alpacas at all.

§ Small bales are much easier to handle. They usually weigh between 40 – 60 lbs. and can be easily lifted or put into a wagon to move around.

§ Small bales do not require specialized equipment.

§ You can be more accurate as to the quantity of hay you are feeding from a small bale.

§ There is less wastage from each small bale when you separate the flakes of hay to feed to the alpacas.

§ Small bales are getting harder to come by. Many hay farmers feel that the harvesting and baling costs are less for big round bales, and in our area the large livestock operations (feedlots, dairies, etc.) prefer the big bales.

§ Small bales tend to be more expensive per ton than large bales.

§ Small bales are quicker to feed making the time spent doing chores less, anytime I can save time but still provide the same standard of care I am happy!

So all in all I have to say that the small bales are the winner. The real deciding factor was the time saved. Since we have moved back to using small bales I have been amazed at how much faster chores have gone, and even more amazed as to how many hours I must have spent forking hay from big bales during the last year.

Now if we found ourselves in a situation where we were again unable to get small bales we know that we can cope with feeding big bales. It may not be the best option, but it is not a bad option. All in all though the small bales are really the way to go, so for the next year or so until our current hay supply is used up I will enjoy being back to working with small bales, and when it comes to looking for our next supply of hay we will try our best to get small bales, provided the quality of the hay is good.


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