Carriers for hay flakes have reached that special standard of barn gear: They could make your life easier.
These really aren’t for people who board their horses. But for the person doing the work around the barn, at times they’re like getting an extra set of hands. Sure, you can schlep flakes out to the pasture without one, but you can carry more flakes or a bucket of grain with the hay if you use a carrier, and — maybe best of all — you won’t need to sweep up afterward.
Most of the carriers are designed along the lines of a simple firewood carrier as a rectangle of fabric with a handle at each end. In fact, if you have one of those next to your hearth, you can try it out in the barn. We reversed the process and used our hay carriers to haul in wood — a much harder task that they performed well — demonstrating their toughness in addition to their usefulness.
To use a hay carrier, lay it out flat, put the flakes in the middle, then lift up the hand grips. Special features may include padded handles and rods to stiffen the ends. TurnOutTotes adds a strap and brass snap to connect on a grain bucket.
We found the simple flat rectangle more useful for carrying flakes than an enclosed bag because it was easier to fill, empty and carry, and because it could do other things around the barn as well.
When not carrying hay, the carrier can tote other messy items, particularly barn laundry such as dirty leg wraps and wet saddle pads. It can serve as a small dry tarp to lay over wet or muddy surfaces so, if you need to get down, you won’t get dirty. If you want to carry a small bucket of grain to the pasture, you can set it in on top of the hay, which leaves one hand free for gates.
Overall, these hay carriers reduce the mess around the barn. When not in use, they fold up to become small and neat themselves.
The one design element we might like to add to this simple product is a strap/snap that would keep the carrier closed if you set it down to open a gate. Our testers were split on how well they liked using a carrier to take hay out to the pasture, with the sticking point being the lack of some sort of closure.
The TurnOutTote gets by this because it has a shoulder strap, which allows two hands free much of the time, although one hand usually will be steadying the carrier against your side as you carry it.
Cashel’s Hay Bale Belt can reduce the mess of a loose bale even further than the hay carriers. It’s one of those things that, when you first look at it, you think “Huh’”
The wide “belt” straps are laid on the ground and the bale placed on top. The two belt buckles are fastened on top, and then you cut the twine. You can now release the buckles, pull out however many flakes you want, and refasten the adjustable straps so that the bale stays intact.
If you’re distributing a bale or more at each feeding, or you keep your hay put neatly away in a spare stall, or if your system works well with a cart that keeps the bale contained, you probably won’t see a use for the belt. But if your barn is small, and there’s usually an uncut bale spreading out from the aisle wall, this belt will reduce mess and sweeping time.
You can also fasten the straps around a partial bale to carry flakes out to the pasture. If you’re distributing the flakes into several paddocks, however, you’d need to adjust the straps as you go. This may be more trouble than its worth, and a hay carrier — or your bare hands — would work better.
What really impressed us was when we went to gather together a full bale that had been cut and spread out while trying various hay carriers, something akin to putting toothpaste back in the tube. The flakes were lined up on the straps, then fastened and tightened. Voila: Ten flakes were once again one bale!
These choices are all rugged and useful. The size and padded handles on the Cashel Hay Handler, at $28.50, makes it our top pick, while the Professional’s Choice Hay Tote, at $14.95, earns our Best Buy.
The TurnOutTote has several special features that may make it worth the higher price ($39.95) to you. The Cashel Hay Belt ($25.95) is a nifty product that can tote half a bale to the pasture but is more useful in being able to bind up an untied bale and keep it neat.