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

Advantages

  • 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.

Disadvantages

  • 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 www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/selecting-a-round-bale-feeder

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.

REFERENCE:

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.

2 Comments

  • Nancy Ziegler

    I have fed round bales, using precautions you advise. I appreciated the lower cost.
    However, I’ve become concerned about the risk of horses stirring up and inhaling too much hay dust while sticking their noses into the roll to pull out mouthfuls. How do I use a round bale and protect the equine airway from inhaling irritants that could cause or inflame heaves/respiratory allergies?

    • Karen @ KPP

      Hi Nancy,

      It is important to choose a round bale that has been properly cured and baled. If the bale contains good quality hay then dust and mold spores should be minimal and not a major concern. Most round bales are fed outside, where the open air environment allows for increased circulation in and around the bale. The circulating air helps dissipate whatever dust might be present. Typically, mold is the biggest issue with round bales. If you find mold in your round bale, remove it from the field and replace it with a clean bale.

      I have known people who purchase round bales, store them in a barn, and feed them by removing chunks of hay that they place in a feeder. It is a lot more labor intensive but it would allow you to shake the hay out completely before you feed it. If you want to ensure that your horses have hay 24/7 then make sure you put enough out each day so that they leave a little.

      If you have a horse that is challenged by airway disease or allergies, then any hay you feed should be soaked in water for 30 minutes to an hour before being fed.

      Karen @ KPP

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