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Hay Transport: The Road to Successful Hay Distribution

September 7, 2023
 By Joe Weaver
Hay Transport: The Road to Successful Hay Distribution
Last Modified: September 8, 2023
Explore the essentials of hay transport with insights from industry leaders. Master these techniques to ensure safe and efficient hauling of heavy hay bales.

Hay transport plays a critical role in feeding livestock and supporting ecosystems. However, hauling hay safely isn’t easy. Several factors affect transporting hay, such as bale shapes and the prevention of damage in transit. Understanding these factors is key to making sure this important cargo reaches its destination.

According to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), hay transport is a crucial component in the agricultural supply chain. Ensuring the safe transport of hay bales requires knowledge and careful attention. Proper handling during transit maintains hay quality, meeting the demands of both suppliers and consumers.

Read along as we review the basics of hay transportation, including types of bales, hay bale flatbed hauling, and best practices for safe transit.

Hay Transport: The Basics of Shipping Hay

Shipping hay might sound straightforward when compared to heavy machinery or hazardous chemicals. However, challenges can still occur when hauling this humble payload.

These challenges include:

  • Wind resistance from oversize bales
  • Preventing excess moisture from ruining the hay
  • Keeping the hay from drying out too much, which hurts nutritional value

It’s easy to see that this seemingly simple commodity actually requires a great deal of attention to transport properly. The weight and volume of hay can pose unique challenges during transportation, demanding meticulous planning and execution.

To learn what successful hay hauling looks like, let’s start by examining the size and shape of the payload itself.

Different Types of Hay Bales

There are two primary hay bale types, and depending on the type, the approach to hauling can vary. These two basic types are round and square hay bales. Each shape requires some special consideration during the transport process.

Round Hay Bales

Round hay bales have gained popularity because they are well-suited to mechanical handling and are often preferred for feeding large herds. Their design is ideal for longer storage periods and less frequent feedings, making them particularly useful for large-scale farming operations. 

The average dimensions of a round hay bale are:

  • Weight: Between 1,000 and 2,200 pounds.
  • Height: Up to 5 feet.
  • Diameter: Around 4–6 feet.

Let's dig into the reasons round hay bales are used.

  • Ease of Handling: Round bales are designed for easy handling with machinery like tractors and front-loaders, making the transport and feeding process quicker.
  • Storage Efficiency: Due to their shape, they can be easily rolled and stacked, maximizing storage space.
  • Weather Resistant: The round shape helps shed water, reducing the risk of rot and mold when stored outdoors.

For all of these advantages, the round shape can present challenges in transit, such as:

  • Balance: The round shape can be challenging when it comes to balancing the bales on a trailer, especially during turns and abrupt stops.
  • Space Utilization: Round bales generally consume more space due to their shape, reducing the number of bales you can transport in a single trip.
  • Strapping: Securely strapping round bales for transport requires extra attention to avoid slippage.

Strapping, blocking, and bracing are especially important when hauling round bales. Make sure not to leave any room for the bales to shift, otherwise balance issues are likely to occur.

Square Hay Bales

Square hay bales are a common sight in smaller farms, horse stables, and even backyard gardens. Their compact size and symmetrical shape makes them relatively easy to haul.

Here's a look at their average dimensions and why they often get picked over round bales.

  • Size: 14”x18”x36” to 16”x18”x44”. Larger square bales are less common, and can reach sizes of 3’x3’x8’ or larger.
  • Weight: A small square bale weighs between 40–60 pounds, whereas a large square bale can weigh up to 750-800 pounds or more.

Square bales are easy to handle, especially for smaller operations or individual animal owners. The shape makes them easy to stack, allowing for efficient storage. They're also easier to break apart for feeding smaller groups or individual animals.

For haulers, the benefits of square bales are:

  • Efficient Shape: Their shape allows for straightforward stacking on flatbeds. They are comparatively easy to strap down securely.
  • Compact Size: This allows for more efficient use of space on the trailer compared to round bales, which translates to cost-savings in transport.

As far as challenges go, square bales are more susceptible to excessive moisture than their round counterparts. For this reason, keeping them dry (but not too dry) in transit is more difficult.

Square hay bales, due to their versatility and manageable size, are a popular choice for both small and large operations. While their shape poses some challenges during the hauling process, proper techniques and equipment can largely mitigate these issues.

How Many Bales Are in a Truckload of Hay?

The following calculations are based on a standard flatbed trailer with dimensions of 48’L x 8.5’ W with a maximum legal stacking height of 8.5’.

ShapeDimensionsBales per Truckload
Small square14”x18”x36”410
Large square3’x3’x8’32

While it’s not impossible to stack bales higher or wider under some circumstances, special permits for an oversized load will be required.

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Hauling Hay on a Flatbed Trailer

How are bales transported? Flatbed trailers are often the vehicle of choice for hay transport. Let's dive into why flatbed trailers are so advantageous for this job.

  • Ease of Loading and Unloading: One of the biggest advantages of using a flatbed trailer is the ease with which you can load and unload hay bales. Flatbeds are open on all sides, allowing you to use forklifts or loaders from any angle. This cuts down the time and labor required substantially.
  • Efficient Arrangement of Bales: The open space and flat surface of the trailer make it easier to arrange hay bales in a way that maximizes the use of space. You can stack the bales in a more orderly manner, ensuring that you can haul as much hay as legally allowed per trip.
  • Straightforward Access for Securing the Load: Flatbeds offer unhindered access to your load, making it easier to secure the hay bales with tie-downs, straps, or tarps. This is crucial for ensuring that the hay arrives at its destination in the same condition it left in, minimizing the risk of loss or damage.

The open design of flatbeds makes securing your load correctly of paramount importance, which leads us into our next topic: how to ensure you're transporting hay bales safely.

Transporting Hay Bales Safely

Hay may not be as daunting of a payload as oversized concrete tanks or utility poles, but it’s still vital to follow safety procedures when loading, hauling, and unloading your bales. Let’s review some tried-and-true safety measures for each stage of hay transportation.

Pre-transport Checklist For Hay Transport

Before hitting the road, it's crucial to complete a pre-transport checklist. This is a key step in ensuring a smooth and safe hay-hauling experience. 

Before you and your hay hit the road, make sure to:.

  • Check Hay Moisture Levels: The moisture content of the hay bales must be checked to reduce the risk of spontaneous combustion. Hay bales with too much moisture are prone to heating up, and spontaneous combustion can occur due to gas build-up. A moisture meter can be a valuable tool for this check.
  • Ensure Bale Integrity: Before loading, make sure that the bales are tightly bound and in good condition. Loose or broken bales can be hazardous as they might fall apart during transportation. 
  • Bring Necessary Equipment: Make sure you have all the necessary equipment for loading and unloading the hay. This might include forklifts or loaders, heavy-duty straps or tie-downs, and tarps for covering the hay. 
  • Inspect Your Trailer: Make sure the trailer is in good condition, with all lights and signals working, and the tires properly inflated.

By following this pre-transport checklist, you can mitigate many risks associated with hay shipping. With that said, how you load and secure your hay bales is just as crucial.

Hay Bale Loading Techniques

When it comes to loading hay bales onto a trailer, certain techniques can make the job easier while ensuring a safer transport process.

Keep the following in mind during the hay bale loading process.

  • Proper Hay Bale Alignment: For round bales, the side-by-side or pyramid stacking techniques are ideal to make the most of available space. Square bales should be stacked in straight rows and columns. Remember, you may need an oversize hauling permit if your cargo exceeds the dimensions mentioned in the table above.
  • Use of Machinery: Handling hay bales often involves the use of machinery like forklifts. When using these machines, it's crucial to maintain stable lifts and avoid abrupt movements. Ensure that the bale spears or pallet forks are well-inserted into the bale for secure lifting.
  • Different Bale Types: The approach to loading can vary significantly depending on the type of hay bale. Round bales of hay might require the use of specific grippers or clamps, while square bales may benefit from a flatbed with side rails for better alignment. Knowing the specific needs of each bale type can significantly ease the loading process.

After you’ve loaded your hay bales, the next step is making sure they're securely fastened for the journey. 

Securing Your Bales of Hay

Securing hay bales with quality tie-downs and restraints is a must. Inadequate or faulty equipment increases the risk of hay bales shifting during transit, which can create dangerous situations on the road. 

Depending on the bale type, size, and the length of the journey, different kinds of straps and tie-downs may be suitable.

  • Nylon Ratchet Straps: These straps offer a quick and effective way to secure hay bales. They can handle significant amounts of tension and are easy to tighten and release. Their durability makes them ideal for longer journeys.
  • Polyester Webbing: This is particularly resistant to wear and tear and is less affected by moisture, making it a good choice for hay that may have a higher moisture content.
  • Chain Binders: For heavier bales or more extended periods of transport, chain binders offer maximum strength. However, they are heavy and require more experience to use safely.

In addition to these tie-down methods, there are special considerations required for shipping hay as a less than truckload (LTL) payload. Under these circumstances, the hay will share space with different kinds of cargo. 

Hay shipped LTL will usually need to be palletized and heavily wrapped to keep it from damaging any other cargo in the trailer.

Even the best tie-downs can loosen during a trip. Regular inspections during your journey are a must to ensure your payload arrives intact.

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Can You Transport Hay Across State Lines?

For semi trucks hauling hay commercially, there are no federal limitations on transporting hay across state lines. On the state level, California does enforce certain rules regarding hay entering the state. It must be free of noxious weeds and insect pests. 

If you are hauling hay to California, make sure your payload is free of these contaminants, and be prepared for inspection.

How is Hay Shipped Internationally and Domestically?

On a domestic level, hay is usually shipped via semi truck and trailer. This is the most affordable, efficient method of transporting hay to its final destination. It’s not uncommon to see pickup trucks hauling hay via a gooseneck trailer, but this is less efficient and not ideal for long-distance transportation.

The truck and trailer combination is also the most common method for transporting hay to and from Canada and Mexico. Due to infestation concerns, Canada requires a phytosanitary certificate for shipments of hay going to most parts of the country.

Hay is also shipped internationally via cargo vessels, and the U.S. routinely exports alfalfa hay to trading partners such as China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Why Choose Heavy Haul and Oversized for Your Hay Hauling Needs?

Hay has a crucial role in the dairy, meat, and horse industries, and its importance in those sectors can’t be understated. That’s why it’s essential to make sure any hay you purchase or ship is handled by experts in hauling large cargo.

Heavy Haul and Oversized is an industry leader in hauling all things big, tall, and wide. Our services include:

Don’t take chances with your haul of hay. Call our expert team at (866) 902-2713, or get a risk-free quote today. Your cows will thank you.

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