Tips for Feeding Round Bales to Horses

There is often a stigma attached to feeding round bales to horses, but managed well they can be a safe and economical option. When baled and stored properly, round bales are no more prone to growing bacteria or mold than square bales. If you decide to feed round bales to your horses, be sure to purchase them from a reputable dealer who has cut and stored the hay properly.



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Feeding Round Bales to Horses


  • Lower cost and more convenient.
  • Less labor intensive on a daily basis.
  • Keeps hay available 24/7 when bales are replaced in a timely manner.


  • Waste from horses dragging and trampling hay.
  • More likely to develop mold from exposure to damp conditions. Increased risk of harboring botulism bacteria.
  • Requires a tractor to move.

Factors that affect round bale quality

  • Type of forage
  • Conditions during harvest
  • Storage method
  • Length of storage

A University of Minnesota study showed:

  • Placing round bales in a feeder reduces losses to between 5% and 30% depending on the design.
  • Horses fed from feeders tend to consume more hay.  Feeder-fed horses ate 2% to 2.4% of their body weight in hay, while nonfeeder-fed horses only ate 1.3% of their body weight.
  • This study shows that horses eating round bales not placed in a feeder may have trouble meeting their energy requirements even when hay is present, because of contamination and waste.

Tips on feeding round bales

  • Elevate round bales on a gravel surface or wood pallet to allow moisture to drain underneath both where they are fed and stored.
  • Purchase a feeder designed for horses.
  • Look for tightly rolled bales. Tight bales keep their shape longer, are less susceptible to moisture damage, and have less surface area in contact with the ground.
  • Store round bales indoors or on an elevated surface covered with tarps. Look for tarps designed specifically to store hay. Hay tarps are treated to be waterproof, UV resistant, mildew resistant, and rot proof.
  • Store round bales end to end with flat sides touching.
  • Avoid storing bales under trees, in order to reduce exposure to moisture.
  • For more information on picking a round bale feeder, visit

Levels of vitamins and other nutrients in forage decrease significantly during harvesting and storage. Micro-Phase was developed to fill the nutritional gaps created by feeding processed forages.


Round-bale feeder design affects hay waste and economics during horse feeding. Martinson K, Wilson J, Cleary K, Lazarus W, Thomas W, Hathaway M.

J Anim Sci. 2012 Mar;90(3):1047-55. doi: 10.2527/jas.2011-4087. Epub 2011 Oct 7.

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