Manual Handling Solutions for Farms (HSE AS23)

Bale handling

Many farming systems involve handling hay, silage or straw bales. The most important step is to match the optimum bale type to your available storage and system of use. While silage bales will normally be handled entirely mechanically, others may not.

Conventional bales

If you cannot use larger bales, eg if you farm a smaller unit or, as in some parts of the country where the fields, storage facilities and methods of using hay or straw would not support bigger bales, you need to make sure you have controlled the risks properly.


Transporting, putting into store and using conventional bales on small units, eg where bales are stored in small stone barns, lofts etc.

  • Outdoor stacks with bales which are spoiled by rain and very heavy.
  • Handling small bales into straw choppers with a high hopper (necessary to protect against contact with blades).
  • Moving pedestrian bale choppers around the farm.


Figure 7: Tractor-mounted straw chopper for spreading fresh nedding

Use traditional aids such as pitchforks, bale hooks, or slat elevators.

  • Store bales close to where you will use them, eg over livestock pens.
  • Use sledges, accumulators, grabs and other mechanical aids to handle bales in groups where possible.
  • Try to use storage buildings which allow easy access for a materials handler or accumulator trailer.
  • Where possible switch to large-bale systems.

Round and large square bales

While most handling will be mechanical, these bales sometimes have to be moved by hand, eg in livestock pens.


  • Unrolling round bales in less suitable livestock pens, especially when turning corners.
  • Restricted access into buildings such as cubicle sheds.
  • Playful cattle can be an additional hazard and may need to be excluded if you have to go into the pen.
  • When large square bales of poor-quality straw are cut, the flakes can themselves be very heavy.


Figure 8: mechanised feeding

Use chopped straw from a tractor-mounted chopper (see Figure 7).

  • Consider an automated unwrapper or other mechanised feeding process (see Figure 8).
  • Use a purpose-designed carrier - effectively fitting wheels to the bale.
  • Use a loader attachment that allows large square bales to be gradually released for bedding loose yards.
  • Break open bales outside areas with restricted access and move the flakes on a trailer or trolley with large wheels.
  • Consider alternative bedding systems using wood shavings, rubber mats or water beds in cubicles.

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