Until the late 19th century farm labourers toiled with scythes for cutting hay, then used pitchforks to make haystacks.

As technology advanced in subsequent decades, farmers would cut their hay, dry and then rake it into rows before employing baling machinery to produce square bales that weighed between 20 – 25 kilograms.

Although conceived prior to World War One, the first mass-produced round baler did not appear until 1947. Key design additions in the 1960s made round balers more appealing and today, the bulk of hay stored is in heavy, round bales, weighing anything between 400 kg – 600 kg.

So, what are the advantages of each type?

Storage and scale
“In my opinion, if you want to store them for quantity and quality, round bales are better,” said Tim Short, grass product expert at PFG Australia. “Round bales tend to weather better than squares. Squares are like biscuits; when it rains it goes through the biscuits.”

Round bales are packed with much greater density, are moisture resistant and ferment naturally making them ideal for larger operations with more livestock.

On the other side of the equation, square or rectangular bales take more time to dry between the cutting and baling process, but might suit farms with fewer head to feed. They can also be stacked neatly and transported on the back of a ute.

“Shedding is best for both types, in an ideal world,” said Tim. “But if you want minimum loss on the paddock, you’ll only lose the first few inches of a round bale in wet weather, whereas with a square it tends to soak right through.”

More resistant to the elements due to their shape and the protective wrapping used during the baling process, round bales are less prone to moisture penetration and are better suited for outdoor storage, reducing the risk of spoilage.

Efficiency and cost
Round bales are generally larger and require less labour and time during the baling process compared to square bales. They can be quickly formed and wrapped using specialised equipment, which can be beneficial when hay needs to be harvested or stored in a short timeframe.

“Broadacre farmers typically want fewer bales in the paddock,” said Tim, “so they’ll use a baler like the big McHale V8940 or V8950 to produce a 6 foot by 6 foot round bale. Those guys want as much in the bale as possible.”

With the remarkable technology now available for machinery that is specifically designed for handling round bales, the efficiencies of producing, storing and feeding out round bales add to their cost effectiveness and convenience.

Square bales can be easily fed and distributed to livestock in a controlled manner. They can be stacked on feeding equipment or fed by hand, making it easier to monitor and control the amount of hay consumed by animals. Naturally, this is on a much smaller scale.

What about for bigger operations?

“With feedout carts it’s easier with round bales because you buy a cart for that purpose,” said Tim. “A number of our Jaylor customers like round bales because they’re harder to chop up.

“Some farmers are geared up to do rounds, others do square. More and more dairy farmers we see are geared for both. For a true silage baler, the McHale is built out of Ireland, so it’s wet country.

“I know I have my sales hat on, but we sell the number one round baler in the world – McHale’s 6750.”