The Best Way To Feed Round Bales To Sheep


using bale unroller to feed round bales of hay to sheep

Feeding your sheep hay is a big part of winter flock care. Round bales of hay are a handy option, as long as you can minimize the amount of wasted hay.

The best way to feed round bales of hay to your sheep by unrolling the hay with a hay unroller.

A small amount of wasted or uneaten hay is to be expected, but more than that starts to get pricey.

Since you pay for the hay whether they eat it or tromp on it, you want to keep the rejected hay to a minimum.

What are your options?

To feed sheep round bales of hay, you can:

  • Unroll the hay mechanically
  • Unroll the hay by hand
  • Use a sheep specific round bale panel feeder
  • Peel the bale and carry hay to feeders
  • Peel the bale into a loader to move the hay

What kind of hay do your sheep need? Best Hay To Feed Sheep is an article I wrote to help you figure out what kind of hay your sheep should be eating.

Unroll the hay out on the ground

We handle the majority of our winter hay feeding by unrolling round bales on the pasture. We use an unroller that fits on the 3 point hitch on the back of our tractor.

We unroll dry hay, various round bale sizes and haylage bales on pasture with the unroller.

This set up works really well for us, as long as the ground is frozen. When the ground is soft, we make ruts.

There are other hay unroller models available, of course. A popular model is a hydraulically powered unroller, this way you can control the rate of unrolling or unroll a pile of hay in one spot.

There are also multiple manufactures of unroller models that unroll bales using an ATV.

We use this hay unroller to feed the main flock of sheep for the winter. As you can tell, there are a few cows out here, as well!

Unrolling round bales by hand

Before we had the hay unroller, any time we ended up purchasing sheep hay in round bales we would roll the bale around the pasture by hand.

Usually, we would unroll it after moving it to the field on a bale spear, but if the bales we close to the gate, we’d just roll the bale right in.

Unrolling by hand is not as hard as it sounds, as long as you are on pretty flat ground and using a smaller sized round bale to start with.

If you have the larger diameter round bales, 800+ pounds, you’ll need to be unrolling hay mechanically.

Feed loose hay with a loader

Another partially by hand method of round bales to sheep is to use a loader or your truck bed.

Fill the loader with hay you peeled off of the bale, then drive in to the pasture and spread out the hay by hand.

When your sheep need some hay, but are still finding some grazing, as well, the loader method works well.

This is how we fed the ewe lambs last winter. It didn’t last all winter, of course, but for longer than we figured.

If your flock needs a lot of hay, you’ll be making quite a few trips to get enough hay to the sheep. Find a way to unroll some of the hay.

Unroll the hay early on frozen ground

If the weather is going to warm up for the day but is below freezing overnight, unroll early. You’ll be putting the hay on solid ground, which will keep it nice and clean for the flock.

Additionally, the hay will act as an insulator and keep the strip of solid ground frozen long after the surrounding ground gets soft.

This is our hay unroller. It opens and closes with the hydraulic cylinder and lifts with the three point. The “stars” on the arms help grip the bale.

Remember, once the sheep feel the hay is ruined, they will not eat it. Even if it was fine 10 minutes ago before they stomped it into the mud.

Put the hay in a hay feeder

Of course, you can put hay in a hay feeder for your sheep. We have feeders that we have built out of wood, but there are also metal and fiberglass models available.

I have seen advertised, but never used, a collapsible cattle panel style sheep feeder sold by Premier 1. It is made of smaller straight panels hinged together with sheep size head holes cut in the panels.

If you are interested in something lighter and more portable than a set in place feeder, a panel feeder would be something to consider.

Sheep won’t eat “ruined” hay

Be sure to use something designed for sheep. If your feeder allows the sheep to stand on or drag out hay, they will not eat it later. To them this stepped on hay is ruined.

The ring feeders for cattle will not work, the sheep will climb in and eat while standing on the hay. Then, once they get the hay smooshed down and pooped on, they will act like it is all gone and they need a refill.

Make your own hay feeder

There are multiple examples of hay feeders for sheep available online. Here is one of our videos showing an extra feeder we put together a few weeks ago.

Sheep can get stuck in head hole feeders

Be careful what design of feeder you choose, this is the sheep only part. Since sheep will drag hay out of feeders, especially feeders made for cattle, the head hole needs to be smaller for sheep.

Smaller head holes come with an increased risk of having sheep stuck in the feeder. I don’t mean that they climbed up in the feeder, I mean stuck by their head!

Anyone with the least bit of sheep experience knows that a sheep being stuck by it’s head is bad news. They will struggle until they strangle themselves.

Use a feeder made for sheep. While this does not guarantee you will never have a problem, it will reduce the likelihood.

DIY Hay Feeders is an article from Cornell showing various home made feeders you could make for your flock.

Look at small dairy farm feeding

If none of these solutions are working for you, consider widening out your search, specifically to mechanical cattle feeding equipment made for dairy cattle.

Look around at online videos, you’ll find a ton of great stuff coming out of Europe. You’d be surprised what a near by tractor dealership can get for you, check into it.

There are some attachments for the front of your Bobcat/Skidsteer that shread the bale and auger it out. This attachment could be used outside or inside, as long as the Skidsteer can maneuver.

Actually, I just saw something like this advertised for sale locally online last week. From the looks of the ad this farm was using it to feed round bales to beef cattle.

I have also seen a few videos of a powered feed cart style hay/haylage feeding system that grinds the hay and augers it out to the sheep waiting along a line feeder.

This would be for sheep inside a barn with a cement path for the feeding cart.

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