The Hay Manager: Local innovation makes bale feeders more efficent

Loretta Sorensen
for Tri-State Livestock News
Lacey's Hay Manager has several design variations for different species includung one for cattle, horses and sheep. He also designed one for calves. Courtesy photo Ted Lacey

Trent, SD, farmer Ted Lacey has always known that wasting resources is a sure way to derail any production budget. Several years ago, as he observed his cattle trampling a significant portion of their hay into the ground, he decided it was time to find a way to reduce the waste. The round bale holder he designed and calls The Hay Manager is the result of his effort.

“I made the first Hay Managers for myself in 1996,” Lacey said. “I’m still using two of them but I remanufactured them to improve their performance. I’ve been selling a perfected version of the Hay Manager since 2007. Recently I was able to improve that design a bit more, too.”

The principle purpose of Lacey’s Hay Manager is to keep large, round bales off the ground. When the bales are suspended, the bottom of the bale won’t absorb moisture and rot. Even if it does get wet, air movement will keep the bale dried out so animals will consume the entire bale.

The other benefit Lacey designed into his Hay Manager is situating the bale so that animals can pull hay off the bale but not out of the feeder. That virtually eliminates wasted hay that gets trampled underfoot as cattle, horses and sheep feed.

“The other benefit of keeping that bale suspended is that animals eat the hay in the bottom of the feeder first,” Lacey said. “They can’t sort the hay out like they would if they had access to the entire bale. That means any hay that’s slightly moldy or not as high quality as the rest of the bale sifts down into the Hay Manager and animals are more likely to consume it rather than push it aside.”

Because animals have to insert their head into an opening in the ring surrounding the bale in order to pull hay out, more aggressive animals aren’t able to chase more timid ones away or crowd them away from the feeder. Lacey purposely designed the Hay Manager so animals work somewhat harder to obtain the hay they need, which reduces competitive feeding behaviors.

“The way the Hay Manager is designed, with cone rods suspending the bale in the center of the feeder, the fines in the bale, which typically are the source of the highest protein, fall down into the feeder where animals can eat them,” Lacey added. “That means you have no thin animals in winter. Animals get the greatest benefit from the entire bale and all your cattle or horses or sheep are getting access to the same quality and quantity of forage.”

From the beginning Lacey manufactured his feeders out of heavier gauge materials than many similar commercial bale holders. He uses 14-gauge steel with three-quarter inch oil well shaft cone rods and one-quarter inch chain laced through the eyelets at the bottom in a circle. This design allows varying feed restrictions with the Hay Manager’s unique way of infinitely adjustable openings by lengthening or shortening the chain at the bottom using a pliers and a nine-sixteenth inch wrench.

“Conventional feeders weight about 150 pounds,” Lacey said. “Ours weigh 475 pounds. I have 110 head of cattle and I know what can happen when they’re pushing into each other trying to eat. We don’t want to spend our time and we know other farmers don’t want to spend their time repairing the feeders. We estimate that the between 1.5 percent and 2 percent of a large round bale is all that’s wasted when you used the Hay Manager. That figure is in contrast to the 10 percent and 20 percent of waste that’s typical in similar conventional designs.”

As more and more livestock owners are using Lacey’s Hay Manager and providing feedback, he has fine-tuned designs and options. Chains suspending the bale can be adjusted to keep the bale higher or allow it to sit closer to the ground. A quick-release latch that releases the rods and chain assembly holding the bale is available if owners request it. Each design – for cattle, calves, sheep or horses – is sized accordingly to suit specific animal sizes and needs.

Lacey didn’t want to simply estimate the efficiency of his Hay Manager design. He researched scientific data related to use of tapered-cone round bale feeders through several recent university studies. North Dakota State University and Dickinson State University partnered on a three-year study of the efficiency of hay feeding methods. Their study, which concluded in 2007, demonstrated that, overall, for the three-year evaluation period, using the tapered-cone round bale feeder reduced wintering costs by 21 percent for a 100-cow reference herd and 17.6 percent for a 300-cow reference herd. The other types of feeding methods in the study were rolling round bales out on the ground and shredding round bales on the ground with a bale processor.

Cows used in the North Dakota study were in the third trimester of pregnancy and were fed for an average of 59 days during the test period. Test data also demonstrated that use of the tapered-cone bale feeder increased cow weight gain, tended to increase rib fat depth and reduced estimated hay consumption by an average of 10.2 percent in comparison with rolling out or shredding the bales.

“Based on a 30-head cow herd, wasting 10 percent of a bale every day costs about $10 per day, or $1,000 over a 100-day feeding period,” Lacey said. “The savings quickly offsets the cost of The Hay Manager. By efficiently feeding a large round bale you get approximately 100 pounds additional forage out of each bale. That’s enough to feed an additional four cows with every bale. In the beef industry today, those four cows are probably your profit margin.”

Lacey, who has designed numerous innovative tools and methods on his northeastern South Dakota farm – such as the leaf saver on John Deere round balers and the reverse 4020 tractor design – says his reward in making the Hay Manager available to other livestock owners includes the satisfaction of knowing he can share his innovative creativity with his peers.

“I know this feeder will help other farmers be more profitable and make their life easier,” Lacey said. “I’ve been given a lot of ideas about how to make my farm more efficient and more profitable. Being able to share those ideas with others is a very good feeling.”

More information about the Hay Manager and additional research material related to efficiently feeding hay is available at