The Horse Feeder vs. Rodeo: Picture a Ferris Wheel

Horses love playing with their food. I feed our horses round bales of hay – if you are familiar with previous domestic episodes, you know the nature of those. Anyway, the citizens of our barn love unwrapping the hay from the bale – much like playful kittens with a toliet paper roll. Once they get it unrolled, they roll in it, pee in it, poop in it and make it inedible. I’ve been so thrilled at the cost difference between the round and square bales, this hasn’t really bothered me until lately, when the effects of this long hot dry summer have impacted the cost of the bales negatively.

Now, like all problems, there is a solution to this situation and it involves tools, a trip to the Farm/Tractor Store and lifting something awkward and heavy all by myself. It’s called a round bale feeder and looks (when put together) a lot like an 8-foot Ferris wheel made out of 16 gauge tubular steel (about as thick as your wrist) welded together that slips over the top of the bale. The idea is that the horses will put their heads through the spaces in the feeder (where the seats would be if it were truly a Ferris wheel) and eat, but be unable to stand on the bale and crush it, strew it and mess it up. This saves you money and hay and according to the people who make bale feeders, enough money to pay for the bale feeder in two or three bales. Oh, the other reason I didn’t buy a bale feeder before was because the guy who sells me the hay said I didn’t need one. Of course. 

So, last night, C. and I went to pick up the feeder which comes in three convenient (if you are 5’10” man) sections, each weighting about 80 pounds. These sections fit easily into the back of the truck and in no time we are on our way to Bob Evan’s to get a nice meal. (It makes us feel good to eat there because it’s the reverse of eating at Pizza Hut – instead of being the oldest we are usually the youngest in the restaurant.) To C.’s credit, he did ask if I would need help getting the bale feeder out of the truck when we got home, and I said, “Oh, no! I don’t think so! I’ll just drag it out.”

Actually that was pretty simple. Once I drove the truck into the pasture, I was able to flip those sections right out on to the ground pretty close to where I thought the feeder would end up. 

I’m excited to notice that the feeder actually has the hardware required to put it together – 6 carriage bolts and nuts – already in the holes. All I have to do is undo them, slide the next section into place and do them back up. Easy! 

The first five go fine. They were only finger tightened. The sixth and last bolt has paint spilled on the threads, and the nut is now fouled with the paint. I need a tool. 

I know everyone has a thing, a permanent short cut in their brain which causes them to make the same mistakes over and over. Mine is an infantile need to avoid using the actual tool best designed for a job and make something that is completely inappropriate work. It starts like this in my brain: “I could use a tool for this. The tools are in the tool room. All the way over there. BUT I have a high heel, a roll of duct tape, a bottle opener, a dog leash, a tire iron, a bungee cord and a burned out halogen bulb within reach. Perhaps one of those will work?”

I try using the dog leash to improve my grip on the nut. I jam the bottle opener against the carriage bolt to keep it from rolling. I use a piece of duct tape on the dog leash to make it tighter around the nut. I pound the whole mess with the high heel just because I’m frustrated and can’t reach the tire iron. I can’t think of anything to use the halogen bulb for. Whew! The bolt and nut are finally free after 30 minutes. At least I didn’t have to take five minutes and walk to the tool room for a wrench or pliers! 

Now it’s time to put the feeder together. The first two sections go together easily: in fact after the first section, I’m proud of my short learning curve – I get the idea it’s better to put both bolts through the holes and then tighten them, rather than one at a time.. I am so good at this! 

In fact, my brain is really cooking now. It occurs to me that if I stand the feeder up, I won’t have to seit in the peed in, pooped in hay to do the last nut!!! It’s fairly easy to rock it into position on its edge. Now it really does look like a Ferris wheel! Whew! It’s eight feet in diameter. I’m … five feet. The last section with the loose bolt is now three feet over my head. But, hey it’s round and I can just roll it over until the section is within easy reach. I get it rolling and of course, down the hill it goes. 

It comes to rest against a tree finally, and it doesn’t really look all that banged up. For some reason it doesn’t roll back up the hill as easily (with the one part still not fastened) as it rolled down, so after about three tries I figure out that I better get that one last bolt done. It’s the fouled bolt and there are no dog leashes, high heels, duct tape or bottle openers within reach! Heck, I can’t even SEE the halogen bulb if I wanted it. I use a stick from the tree to poke out most of the paint and then manage to get the nut on the bolt, most of the way up. I roll the feeder back up the hill. 

Once in position, all I have to do is flip it back down and I’m ready to go. Now, it is an immutable law of physics that a 5-foot person with a reach of about 5-foot-6-inches cannot get to a point on an 8-foot circle where you can become a human fulcrum and pull it over. I wedge the thing against the fence, sprint for the truck for that bungee cord and before you can say, “You could have had C. do this really easily last night, and all it would have cost you is kissing him tenderly in appreciation,” I’ve got it that bungee cord up and over the top. One yank and (although all 180 pounds narrowly miss hitting me in the head) it’s over! It’s even over a pile of hay!

I let the horses out of their stalls and eagerly wait for them to see it and use it. The first four walk past it toward the field where the grass is, never even noticing the new toy. Number five, Mr. Doc-who-has-issues, braces himself against the barn wall and screams at it as if he’s just seen a shark in the pasture. After a few days, I am sure he will take right to it.

  • Published on Feb 5, 2010
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