I saw a posting on the Shetland breeders mailing list about someone who had built hay feeders for her sheep from recycled plastic barrels that she had gotten free. (here) Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any of them free, and I tried craigslist as well as FreeCycle. I called around, and found that Agway carried recycled juice concentrate barrels, for $35 each and we bought two of them.
[Frank taking over]
We built the two feeders from the two drums we bought, and they are a pretty solid success: 2×6 legs, and a wooden frame around each of the half-barrels to lend some rigidity so the screws don’t get pulled through the plastic. They’ve worked well, and we have better fed sheep going through less hay.
They’re not quite perfect: the drums are anywhere from one to four flakes shorter than a hay bale, so theres’ always a bit extra, which also makes adding the hay more work than it otherwise would be. (The baler our vendor uses isn’t the world’s most consistent.) They will however pay for themselves this year in hay.
We also had, as Lisa mentioned, the grate for the ‘grate bale box feeder’ which we’d bought two years ago and never used. So I finally knocked together a box for that, and we put in with Sue and his girls. This too has been a big success. It’s, of course, big enough for any bale we have, which saves a touch of trouble, and lasts a bit longer. We’ve also found that installing the grate doesn’t make a lot of difference. The hay gets used at about the same rate, and again we get better fed sheep with less hay.
I’d say that the choice between the styles is pretty even: The box one is cuter with its gabled shingle roof, and it cost only a few drywall screws. OTOH, it took a bit longer to build and it weights the absolute max that Lisa can help me move. The barrel ones are much easier to move, and went together a bit quicker. They did cost more, but will still quickly pay for themselves. However having to shorten every bale really reduces the convenience factor. My personal feeling (subject to change when we see how long things last) is that with free or nearly so barrels, I’d use them. Or, if I could put a whole bale in, I’d use them. However, as the real world is what it is, I’ll stick with the box version.
There’s really only one caveat that I have: Our hay is rather stemmy first cut, and sometimes the sheep will eat all the yummy stuff in the top couple inches and decide they’re out of food, even though there’s a whole day’s worth left if they’d just dig for it. It happens in all the feeders, though the wooden one is worse, and worse yet if the grate is in place. So you can’t just look and decide ‘not empty’, you need to check the quality of what’s there.
We scoop out the stemmy bits that are left and throw it in the shelters for bedding before reloading the feeders.