Round hay bales in plastic bags.  Franklin County.  February 23, 2004.  9:04 a.m. EST.

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Photographer's comments:
     Although the technology to make round hay bales has been around since the 1940s, this particular farming practice didn't become commonplace, at least in our part of the country, until the late 1970s and early 1980s.
     Traditional "square" bales are relatively easy to handle and they stack up neatly in a barn; but getting them to the barn is costly and labor-intensive.  It takes a whole crew to get in a field of square hay bales, and square-baling machines are famously troublesome.
     A field full of round bales, on the other hand, can made in part of an afternoon by one person on a tractor, pulling a round-baling machine.   Round balers are fast and they are more reliable than square-balers.  Round bales vary in size, but they always are much larger than individual square bales, and there is a related economy in that respect.
     The big problem with round bales is wastage.  Because they are so big (they weigh hundreds of pounds and can only be moved by tractors equipped with long "hay spikes" fitted to them), and because they don't stack as neatly as square bales do, round bales are usually left out in the field until they are needed, oftentimes right on the spot where they were made.  Exposed to the elements, the outer layers of the round bale will deteriorate and, basically, turn to worthless straw.  Cattle will eat the good center out of a round bale and ignore the dry stuff around the outside.
     The solution, thus far, has been to encase round bales in weatherproofing sheathes of one type or another, usually some type of plastic to repel water.  The bales in the photo above are protected by what might be called the ultimate:  they are totally encapsulated by huge plastic bags made for this very purpose.  I wonder how much those bags cost apiece?
     I'm not a farmer, and I don't have to worry over the figures at night after supper, but I can speculate.  I suspect that the advantage of round bales has become not so much a savings in dollars and cents.  Instead, the advantage is simply that one man can do it all.  At almost any cost, a small farmer these days can't find enough other people to help him get in hay any other way, especially on the right day to harvest this time-sensitive crop.
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More location information:
     
Beside US 127 in Franklin County, north of Frankfort.  Franklin County is in the north-central part of the state. 
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Posted February 23, 2004.