Barnyard Basics: Feeding hay to cattle with horses

Courtesy of Wes Lupher
A team of Shires stands ready to go feed cattle in 40-below-zero, weather with a home-made bale unroller at Wes Lupher's ranch near Mountain View, Wyo.

Heather Smith Thomas

Wes Lupher and his family raise cattle on a ranch that has been in his family since the 1870s in the southwest corner of Wyoming near Mountain View.

Part of their summer pasture is next to the Utah state line in the Uinta Mountains. This is high elevation; their house is at 7,000 feet and the ranch pastures go up to 9,000 feet. This area gets a lot of wind and cold winter weather.

“My dad always worked horses and I grew up driving a team, feeding cows,” Lupher says.

Today he still feeds all the hay with teams in the wintertime. On a cold day, feeding with a team is a lot better than trying to feed with a tractor that won’t start.

“Last winter, we had a stretch of 40 below zero,” he says. “At one of our places, down at Poverty Flats, I was feeding 125 cows and I was the only thing moving with my team of mules. Everyone with tractors was froze up.”

You don’t have to plug in a team overnight; they will start every morning.

“They may not want to, but they do,” he says. “And part of the fun of it is trying to figure out how to feed these big round bales with the horses. I do it several different ways.”

He has a friend in Driggs who invented a bale unroller.

“We modified a three-point squeeze that goes on the back of a tractor and mounted it on a little three-wheeled wagon,” Lupher says. “You back into your bale with that after you pull it out of the stack with the horses, squeeze the bale to pick it up and then unroll it.”

Lupher also put a bale unroller on runners.

“I also use a little sled (4- by 6-feet) that my son built for me, and pull it with a team of mules,” he says. “I pull bales out of the stack, roll them onto that little sled, pull them out to the field and pitch them off. This works really well. With the two methods, I have a way to feed on the home place, and another way to feed down at Poverty Flats.”

For pulling big bales out of the stack, he found some hardened steel and made big hooks. The steel that works best was from an old potato digger link.

“I bent those and now I can hook the bales, run it to the double-tree, and pop them out of the stack with the horses and get the bales situated on the little sled,” Lupher says. “This actually works very well, and gets the teams really well broke.”

They have work to do year-round. The horses do a lot of jobs around the ranch. He has several small wagons he uses to take materials out to build fence, or haul sod.

“With all our irrigation ditches, we need to ditch them out now and then and haul the sod off to build dikes and dams,” Lupher says. “So we hook up the horses to do things like that.”

He grows some alfalfa, oats and barley, and plows and disks with the teams.

“We also use the horses to drag meadows in the spring. We drag all our meadows, so the horses don’t get much time off; they have some kind of job in every season,” he says.

Lupher likes the versatility of the four-legged farm implements. They also saves diesel fuel and electricity, not having to plug in the tractor every night in cold weather.

“You can use horses for just about anything,” he says. “There are ranchers around me who feed with teams of horses, but not very many do, anymore. One rancher who has about 350 head of cattle told me he didn’t have time to feed with horses, but feeding hay is a job tailor-made for a team. I’ve fed as many as 500 head every day with a couple teams. They can sure do it, and get over a lot of ground.”

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email