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.


  • I really appreciate the tips in this post! I have been feeding my horses round bales for years and have never had any problems.

  • Lisa R

    I am wondering about feeding round bales in the warmer months? The bales are in feeders but have no cover or roof. Should I be concerned about mold growth?

    • Karen

      The short answer is yes, you should be concerned. Mold can grow quickly under the right conditions. It can take as little as 24 to 48 hours to germinate and grow. If you live in a hot, humid climate there is a good chance that mold will develop on an exposed round bale before it can be entirely consumed by your horses. If you live in a hot, dry climate then the chances of mold developing on the bale are lower.

      If you must feed round bales in warm weather, protect them from the rain by using a covered feeder or place the bale in a shed. Check the bale daily and discard it if the hay shows signs of mold. Horses will avoid eating moldy hay if they can, but if the only hay they have is moldy, they will eat it.

  • Jenn

    If feeding 2x/day off a round bale, how long will one bale last? Thank you very much!!

    • Karen

      That will depend on how much you are feeding and how much your round bale weighs.
      The below calculation only works if the hay is being removed from the round bale and fed to the horse. It does not calculate waste and the horse does not have free-choice access to the round bale.

      The average round bale weighs 1,000 to 1,200 lbs. If you are feeding a 1,000 lb horse at the rate of 1.5% of his body weight in hay per day, then you would be feeding 15 pounds of hay per day. At that feeding rate, a 1,000 pound round bale would last approximately 66 days. A 1,200 lb round bale would last approximately 80 days.

      When horses have free-choice access to a round bale, you have to consider multiple factors when estimating how long the bale will last. Those include the weight of the bale, the size and number of horses eating from the bale, the rate of intake, the type of feeder being used, and the amount of waste.


      Weight of hay bale: 1,200 lbs
      Number of horses being fed: 2
      Average weight of each horse: 1,100 lbs
      Estimated rate of intake: 2% of body weight per day in hay
      Waste from being fed in ring ground feeder: 19%

      Bale will last approximately 22 days.

      • Sandra Tilghman

        Around here we have access to ~500 lb bales. They are smaller and easier to manage. How long they will last depends on the math.

  • 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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