The most expensive part of a horse’s diet is hay. Feeding round bales can provide owners with a reduced cost per ton when compared to purchasing and feeding small square bales.
The lower price, on top of the convenience of feeding round bales and not having to deal with putting hay out each day, are factors that horse owners need to consider. Round bales are used throughout the equine industry as a means of supplying forage to horses on dry lots, pastures and during the winter.
There are some things that need to be considered before you start feeding round bales.
Tractor for transport
One thing that you will need is a tractor with a loader/round bale spear. Round bales can weigh between 500 and 1,200 pounds apiece and you need to be able to move them around for feeding and storage. If you are not producing your own hay, then you will have to purchase it.
Store hay properly
Horses are sensitive and should not be fed wet/moldy hay. Purchasing hay that has been processed at the right time and stored inside where it cannot get wet is a must. Round bales can be stored outside but they should be off the ground, such as placed on pallets and covered with plastic or a waterproof tarp to reduce waste from the weather.
Use a round bale feeder
Horses are wasteful eaters when it comes to hay. They generally take a big bite and half of it falls on the ground. Once on the ground they stand and pass urine and manure on it, making it undesirable to eat. Therefore, feeding your horse round bales without a feeder can result in around 57% of the bale being wasted and a reduction in hay intake — horses are picky eaters compared to cattle, and as a result, can experience weight loss.
If you are going to feed round bales to your horses, I highly recommend using a round bale feeder designed for horses. All feeders reduce hay waste compared to not using one.
There are multiple types of round bale feeders including hay nets, cones, cradles and covered cradles, hay huts, different styles of rings and roofed feeders. Horse injuries are uncommon for the most part when using these feeders. Cosmetic rub marks along the sides of faces can occur with some horses. If using the hay net alone on the ground, I recommend that horses should not be shod. Horses tend to paw at the hay fed on the ground and horseshoes could be caught in the small squares of the net.
Personally, for my own two horses, we use a round bale hay net in combination with a feeder that keeps the bale off the ground. This hay feeder is placed under a lean-to shed attached to our barn. The horses have access to hay 24/7.
Not only have we experienced hardly any hay waste using this method, but we have noticed the round bales last longer and there has been no weight loss in our horses. The biggest thing we have noticed is that this method has cut our hay cost almost in half. We do still purchase some square bales for trail riding trips, but less than 50 bales a year.
There are hay nets made for round bales and square bales both large and small that can be used to reduce hay waste, shorten the amount of time and labor at feeding, and above all, save you money. Feeding large round bales to your horses is definitely worth your consideration.
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