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Feeding Round Hay Bales to Horses By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 2, 2012

Dry growing conditions in many areas of the country have reduced the forage harvest, leading horse owners to consider alternatives to traditional square hay bales.

Round bales are not as popular with many horse owners because these large bales are heavy, difficult to move and store, and subject to waste (as much as 50%) as horses pull out and trample large amounts of hay. On the other hand, round bales may be the best or only choice for winter forage.

Faced with the necessity of using this forage source, what’s the best way to avoid waste and maximize efficient hay feeding? Following these management tips can improve use of round hay bales.

  • Most round bales are stored outside and are subject to weather damage. Storing the bales on a six-inch pad of coarse rock will minimize mold development by allowing rain and snow to drain away. Wooden pallets can also be used to keep bales off the ground.
  • Buy tightly compressed bales, preferably wrapped in plastic or netting, as plastic is better than twine to prevent spreading as the bale ages. Loose bales tend to sag, increasing the amount of hay that is in contact with the ground.
  • Use a round bale feeder. Studies at the University of Minnesota showed waste was greatly decreased when a feeder was used.
  • Indoor storage of round bales can reduce damage from moisture and mold. Loosely covering outdoor bales with a plastic tarp also helps to preserve hay quality. Be sure the bales are not covered so tightly as to prevent some air circulation.