Hay bales have gone yuppie.
If you never leave home with your horses, or if you carry a lot of hay when you travel, you have no need for one of the latest types of horse products: bags for covering hay bales. These bags have emerged along with the growing popularity of SUVs brawny enough to pull a two-horse trailer but that need to stay clean enough to also serve as the family station wagon.
The bags are fine for moving a bale of hay and keeping the surroundings for that hay orderly. When you need more than one bale of hay for your trip, or when there’s already a pad of hay stalks in the back of your pickup, well, why bother' That said, we do really like these bags for reducing clutter in cars and trailers and around the front of the stall at a horse show. There’s a lot less sweeping to be done. They’re second only to matching director chairs in providing upscale comfort, since you can keep your breeches from getting gross when you plop down on the bale.
Even though these are bags, their role is as a cover for a full or half bale, not as a tote. They need to be a fully enclosed bag to keep loose hay and chaff contained. But for lifting and carrying, we found they’re less convenient than the twine on a bare bale, because you have to wrestle the bale into the bag and then haul the whole assembly out to the car.
Hay covers that are roomy enough so that they’re easy to fill are less stable to get a grip on. The bags become steadier if you stuff the remaining space with loose odd pieces such as small buckets or bags of feed. But then they’re even heavier to lift.
For two people, lifting a bagged bale presents no problem, but we’re not going to assume you always have a second set of hands waiting around to help. Our main testing model was a standard-issue 5’6” horsewoman who had to lift the bale by herself up to about the same height her black lab could jump.
Our average basic testing bale was about 45 pounds and 33 inches long — your hay bales could be quite different. You want the bags to be longer than the bales so that they’re easy to fill but not so long that they become unwieldy, unless you’re planning to stuff other items in the bag.
It’s significant that hay-bale covers are a relatively new product line. Of all the bags we used, there were no two with a similar arrangement of handles or straps. The marketplace just hasn’t reached a consensus on that yet. But, we did.
For one person to lift and carry these bulky, heavy packs, the best arrangement seems to be a handle on top in a similar position to the twine “handle” on a bare bale. Cathy Birch of Schneiders also points out that short handles on the bag make it much easier to secure a hay bale somewhere on your rig, including on top if necessary.
In addition to being easy to lift and carry, we also expected the bags to be easy to fill. After all, these bags are about convenience. The bags we tested performed that task well because they were larger than the bales and had double-headed zippers that went around three sides.
Since these bags will probably be going to shows, appearance may be a consideration although, since that’s personal to each user, we didn’t take it into account. We did feel that the Cordura bags looked nicer than the vinyl options. However, the vinyl bags seemed no less sturdy or functional. A couple manufacturers of Cordura bags can also give you custom choices in color, monograms and straps/handles to match the show gear and blankets you already have.
We didn’t expect the bags to be waterproof, since they’re more likely to be used inside vehicles than outside. Their function is to keep their surroundings clean, not necessarily to protect the hay itself, which can stand to get wet from rain if it’s going to be eaten soon at a show.
We did test them in the rain, however, plus we noted which bags had grommets for ventilation and which were sealed up tight. In general, we preferred the grommets even though they might let in some rain or let out a bit of chaff because we noted hay bags can heat up quickly if left in the sun, with the vinyl bags doing so even more than the Cordura bags.
If you’re hesitant to buy one of these hay bags, your investment shouldn’t go to waste even if you decide you don’t want to use it for hay. These bags can function well for storage, such as for off-season blankets. They can also be used to contain all the bits and pieces of equipment that may spread around the back of your SUV as you load up for the show, thereby keeping your black lab from making a nest on your clean saddle pads.
All the bale bags in this trial are sturdy and will function well to keep the back of your SUV clean. But all are also harder to carry than a plain bale, so ease of handling becomes the deciding factor. Our winner is easily the Sportack/EasyCare Rolling Bale Bag, at $59.95. However, if you don’t want the added weight and wheels, the runner-up with its well-placed handles, and Best Buy at $44.95, is Schneiders Dura-Tech Multi-Purpose Extra Large Carrier.