Extension News

Handling Large Round Bales


By Charles Schwab
Safety Specialist, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
Iowa State University Extension

Large round bales accent Iowa’s landscape and add a unique hazard to those harvesting and transporting forage. Large round bales are bulky as well as heavy, weighing typically 1,500 to 2,000 pounds. Bales are compact and dense, and usually reach a diameter of five to six feet. They are designed to repel rain and prevent spoilage; however, they also easily roll down hills or off equipment causing serious injuries or sometimes death.

Monster Momentum
The first important rule is to never try to stop a rolling bale, even with a tractor. A bale will pick up speed and gain momentum as it moves down any hill or slope. Never put yourself in front of a bale heading down a hill. You wouldn’t jump in front of a truck free-wheeling down a hill; likewise, don’t try to stop a large round bale. You don’t have enough mass to stop that bale from reaching the bottom of the slope, so don’t try.

Steady as She Goes
The large size and weight of round bales affect the stability of equipment used to handle them. A second important rule is to check the owner’s manual for recommendations about the size of the tractor and loader required to safely lift and transport large round bales. Improper matching of equipment and load creates a potential for serious injuries.

Once matched, adjust the tractor wheels to the suggested setting and add the proper ballast to assure that the tractor can maintain balance and avoid rollover. Always use a tractor that has a rollover protective structure (ROPS) when moving bales. A tractor without ROPS is a fatality waiting to happen.

Heavy End Up
When moving bales with a tractor, keep the bale on the up-slope side of the tractor. This will provide the best stability for the tractor to prevent an overturn. To accomplish this, put the transmission in reverse to back up a hill when using a rear-mounted spike. Back down a hill when using a front-end loader. Avoid driving across any slope while transporting a large round bale. Cross-slope travel creates the highest potential for a tractor rollover.

Low and Slow
Go low and slow when moving large round bales. Drive slowly to avoid sudden movements and turns, which are exaggerated by a heavy load and can cause the tractor to roll over. Keep the bale low to maintain balance. The weight of the bale, if not kept low, will raise the center of gravity of your equipment and increase your chances of an overturn. Traveling over rough ground, stumps or ruts can also cause a tractor carrying a large round bale to overturn.

Grapple With It
Lastly, always use a grapple hook with a front-end loader to transport large round bales. A grapple hook will prevent the bale from rolling back onto the loader arms and crushing the operator. Using a tractor with a cab or a four-post rollover protective structure will provide additional security. A rear-mounted loading spike might be a better choice because it eliminates the danger of rollback associated with a front-end loader. A rear spike also does not block the operator’s forward vision and places the load on the large back tires of the tractor. Make the right choices for your operation. Remember the important rules and the key operational steps to remain safe with large round bales.

Additional information
Large Round Bale Safety - Virginia Cooperative Extension
Handling Big Bales Safely - Farm Safety Association
Large Round Bales: Safety - University of Missouri Extension

This article is from the August 2009 issue of Acreage Living,
Another article in this month’s issue—
Keeping a Roof Overhead

Contacts :

Charles Schwab, Ag & Biosystems Engineering, (515) 294-4131, cvschwab@iastate.edu

Lynette Spicer, Extension Communications, (515) 294-1327, lspicer@iastate.edu