The round bale hay experiment – Part 3

Round bale by the treeGone. That’s how I’d explain the round bale I mentioned in Part 1 (October 13) and Part 2 (November 21). Our horses totally decimated it and seem offended they actually needed to forage for grass again. But as the weather got colder and the grass in our pasture became less and less, I started realizing that supplemental forage seems like a necessity. We seemed to “get away with it” last year because we bought Valentine in mid-February and prior to that only had a single boarding horse on our 5+ acre pasture. This year is different. We have two permanent horses sharing one pasture of dead or missing grass. So here at the end of the “experiment” I can tell you it has been a total success. $20 worth of hay supplemented our horses forage needs for almost three months (October-January). I don’t expect to get nearly as much time out of the next round bale because our natural forage supply is almost gone.

Based on our experience these past few months, here are some notes I’ve made on round bales:

  • I’m a little concerned that our horses stand in one small area and eat from it all day. Will they get fat this way? I thought horses always wanted to keep moving for safety.
  • I came across an interesting report concerning round bale hay spoilage. The government of Alberta, BC, Canada funded a study of how round bale storage techniques affect spoilage. Although the report was conducted in 1988, the data remains relevant today. The results showed that, with the exception of round bales stored inside, there were no differences in hay spoilage where round bales were stored outside in rows versus wrapped in plastic. Round bales stored outside, according to the study, may lose up to 10% of the hay to spoilage, after 16 months, amazingly. Round bales stored away from the weather experienced no spoilage. For more information, visit the Round Bale Storage Techniques report at the Alberta government website.
  • Although I purchased this last round bale for $20, delivered straight off of the hay baler wagon, I wonder how much price will fluctuate in winter. Supply and demand and all.
  • Delivery was great but there is no hay cutting going on these days so I can’t count on free delivery. I’m sure I could pay for delivery but I have a car hauler trailer and am inclined to save a few bucks and pick it up myself. I wonder if this is a good idea. At 1,000 pounds, how difficult will each be to move around at home, since we don’t have a tractor?
  • Location – the spoilage report mentioned above notwithstanding, I’m still considering putting the new round bale in our old barn out in the pasture. I wonder if I’ll be able to get it in there without the aforementioned uncontrollable 1,000 round bale rolling through our barn and knocking it down. Sure, it would be funny later but barns aren’t cheap.

I made some calls to try and get another round bale, as the grass in our east Tennessee pasture becomes less and less with colder weather. Fortunately I have a friend who was willing to sell me 2 round bales for $30 total, provided we pick them up. So we picked up two round bales from an open field on 1/12/07 with our F150 and a 16 foot car hauler, which worked nicely. I think we could have pulled three round bales home if we wanted to. “Picked up” means we went to the field and my friend loaded both round bales onto our trailer with a tractor and hay spear.

We brought the round bales home and figured since our pasture is hilly, we’d use that to our advantage. I backed the trailer up with the rear facing downhill next to a tree and Mikki and I were able to roll off one of the round bales. The horses found this whole process quite interesting!

Horses like trucks

Next, I backed our trailer up to the barn to unload the second round bale. This proved much more difficult. I keep calling these “round” bales but in reality they’re flat on the bottom from sitting for 6 months. We also didn’t have the downhill advantage. But eventually we unloaded it. Man I wish we had a tractor.

Round bale on the trailer

So now our horses have their faces in the “new” hay every day for most of the day, though they do roam the pasture in between “meals”. The quality of these round bales looked pretty poor on the outside, with lots of visible mold. Since the bales are in layers (think pecan swirls), the moldy layer was easily unwrapped to reveal the good hay. The inside looked much better. The outside peeled off as we rolled the bale into place. Our horses are picky about their hay and forage so we don’t expect they’ll be interested in any of the moldy hay, as long as there is good hay to be had.

As of today, February 2nd, the first bale in the pasture is almost entirely gone. That’s 3 weeks for $20 ($15 plus gas to get it here). Not bad for winter forage, I suppose. The horses don’t seem to have touched the bale in the old barn for some reason. We might have to push it out.

Knowing how well round bales are working for us, we have a plan for later this year. This summer/early fall when the round bales are plentiful, cheap and not moldy, we’re going to stock up, putting them in the old barn protected from the elements. I’m sold on round bales!

Thanks to David who commented in The round bale hay experiment – Part 2 about using a hay ring, specifically a horse hay ring. Apparently one of these devices reduces the amount of wasted hay by keeping the round bale contained. Horses simply reach their necks over and feed out of the middle. We’re doing some more research on price, etc. and will bring it up in a later post. David says it extends the life of the bale up to a week or more. Sounds good to me, provided the price is reasonable.

Related Posts:
The round bale hay experiment – Part 1
The round bale hay experiment – Part 2
The round bale hay experiment – Part 3 (you are here)
The round bale hay experiment – Part 4
The round bale hay experiment – Part 5

About Bill

Long-winded horse newbie, aspiring amateur barrel racer and cowboy mounted shooter. Bill has a "horse problem" and regularly wears a t-shirt that reminds him "I don't need another horse." A favorite quote is from John Wayne: "Courage is being scared but saddling up anyway," which pretty much describes how he feels every time he gets on a horse.
This entry was posted in Horse Ownership Costs, Pasture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to The round bale hay experiment – Part 3

  1. David says:

    Wow, déjà vu! This all sounds way too familiar. We don’t have a tractor yet either, and also use a flatbed trailer to transport and deploy the round bales. If anyone has any great tractor-less suggestions for unloading and moving round bales, please post.

    $30 for two bales is a great price! Here in West TN, round bale hay is collectively lumped into two categories by quality, “Horse Hay” and “Cow Hay”. Good “Horse Hay” is running $45-$55 per bale if you are lucky enough to find it for sale.

    One other comment on using round bales. As the horses congregate around to eat, the inevitable by-products also accumulate in the same area. Add a little rain, and you eventually have circular area of mud, poop, and pee around the bale. Because of this, I have found that it can be helpful to change the feeding area to a different location in the pasture with each new bale.

  2. Elise says:

    Here’s what a friend used to do to unload round bales with no tractor. Attach your tie down strap to a tree (or something else sturdy) and around the bale. And drive out from under the bale. Voila!

    Definitely look into a round bale feeder. The horses at one of our barns that had no feeder would regularly spread the hay out, pee in it, and then refuse to eat it. They will still throw it around with the feeder but it is a lot less waste. Make sure you get a horse hay feeder and not a cattle feeder.

  3. Terry says:

    Glad your hay is $30 for 2 (they look like 750-800#) in Texas I just bought 2 1500# for $95 ea. Everywhere else its $120 for the 800# ones.

    Put wood pallets under the bale of hay…it will keep it off the ground and help with the mud, manure, etc problems. Do also use the hay ring..horses as you know don’t see any reason not to do everything they need to with the minimal amt of movement.

    Here’s a thought thou..the hay you have looks pretty bad, its not net wrapped and has been stored like cow hay..high loss of nutrition (there should never be mold in properly stored hay). It would take 13,600# of hay in round bales (at $25 a bale thats $425 a yr) to feed them year round (due to wastage, etc). In actual fact they only need about 10# a day (if being fed grain, 20# if not) which for 2 is 7,300# which in sq beautiful bales at $3.50 a 60# bale is only $433 a year (assuming you had to feed them year round). Since you only have 2 horses opt for the sq bales and feed them some oats. Cost is comparable and you can control how much they eat to keep them from getting “hay belly”, possibly colic from moldy hay and nutritionally its much better for them. Round bales are great for people with more than 2 horses – but sq. is always the better option(remember to get 2nd cutting when you buy the hay this summer, which ever type you get). If you buy round put them on wood pallets in the barn. Loss of quality to round bales is mainly through the damp ground.

    Good luck!

  4. Kevin says:

    For moving round bales without a tractor, there is a product that you can attach to your truck, although you need a fifth-wheel hookup in the bed. It’s basically a spear with either an electric motor to raise and lower it or a hand winch. I’ve also seen on the internet what is called a bale buggy–haven’t seen any here in South Dakota but they seem to be common in other parts of the country. There are a couple designs, here is one:
    Here is the website for the bed mounted unit:
    An alternative to a feeder is this interesting solution from Canada:
    BTW, I bought a 1946 Ford 2n tractor for about $2200 to move have. Before that, I mostly used small square bales. Also, unless the pasture is really productive, five acres for two horses full-time is pretty marginal–of course, I’ve lived in the west under drier conditions. Good luck.

  5. Bill says:

    Thanks for the notes David, Elise, Terry and Kevin!

    Kevin, I’ll check out those links. I had no idea there were tractor alternatives.

  6. gerry says:

    Enjoyed reading about your experiences. You must change the bale feeding area regularly both to prevent the grass being churned up and to reduce the accumulation of potentially harmful pathogens. Incidence of foot rot in sheep is much higher on farms where the feeding areas are constant. As far as moving the round bales is concerned – I laughed. This has caused me so much grief I invented a trailer to do the job (patent pending) and have just taken delivery of the first two units. We’re demonstrating them at a big agric show here in July so if you’re obver in the UK I’ll sell you one!

    Good luck.

  7. gerry says:

    Sorry, me again. You might be interested in this one.

    It’s Canadian but seems to be designed for REALLY big bales. Prob not ideal for a smaller unit.

  8. gerry says:

    Tractorless round bale handling

  9. Mikki says:

    How cool is that, Gerry! But I wonder how much it would cost to ship from the UK? You need to find a US distributor, I’m sure it would be a hit over here!

  10. Hi, just like the bale buddy (hmm wonder where that idea came from) we too have a hay transporter come feeder that we would love to get over there. Without getting a big head ours is without doubt the best design in the world. A simple google search of the Universal Hay Trailer will take you to the new inventors web site where you can view our trailer in action. We would offer our secrets and wisdom to the right manufactures in a heart beat just to get our design out there. In Australia the Universal Hay Trailer is a complete success. Please help us get our trailer over there to you. We honestly believe you need it to make your life as easy as us aussies.

    Kay and Steve

  11. Gerry says:

    (hmm wonder where that idea came from)

    I’m sure you’ll tell us Steve, where did it come from?

  12. libby sculley says:

    I purchased my first round bale this weekend in Vermont. It is a 4X4 2nd cut and it weighs approx 500-600#. I paid $50.00. We too have not the luxury of a tractor but thought of trying the round bales as a way to feed good forage less frequently.

    I just found a great invention in Canada called the Big Bale Buddy.  It is essentially a giant heavy-duty bag with elastic at the top shaped like a round bale that you slip over the bale’s flat end and then sleeve it over the rest of the bale. I am thinking of getting one as they are lightweight (3 lbs.), inexpensive ($80.00 US), reduce waste and help contain the bale so the horses don’t trash it. I find that I have no way to place a round bale into a feeder and no way to move a 300# hay rack. I am also thinking that they might help slide the bale more easily on our frozen snowy ground here in the NE winters.

    Hope this buddy hay bag works.  Check it out.

    Enjoyed the post

  13. Monica says:

    Just found this site by accident, and thought I’d throw in my 2 cents. We just got our first tractor for moving bales this year, just in time for the KY drought, again. Our primary method of moving bales around the pastures has been with a rope sling we developed with trial and error, and it cost $0. We took an old heavy 30 ft. lunge line and a shorter 20 ft. lunge line and tied them together around a bale and to the ball hitch on our truck, and we drag the bales into position. Take the longer line and tie the ends together in a square knot (so it can be untied later and used as a lunge line again). Hook the long line on the ball hitch, and lay the other end of the loop over the bale (laying on the round side, with the flat ends perpendicular to the truck). Take the shorter rope, and tie one end to the longer line on one side of the bale, and do the same to the other end, pulling it fairly snug. Now move the truck forward a few feet, and it will pull the longer rope tight. Adjust the shorter rope to put it at a 90 degree angle to the longer rope(when viewed from the end of the bale). Drive the bale to where you want it, and disconnect the ropes. It may take a bit of practice to get the rope angles right for the sling, but it’s cheap and works pretty well. Any towing rope works too, but we happened to have the lunge lines laying around. Just be sure to stay uphill from the bale if you aren’t in the truck, so if it rolls out of the sling, you don’t get squished. Hope this helps!

  14. Here is a company that sells several round or square bale feeders.
    Web site:

  15. dlagrand says:

    we have a tractor, so moving our bales at home are not a problem, but i have some horses pastured in another town, and this is how i take them a round bale. i have a shallow ditch in my back yard that i put my full-size pickups back tires in. then i use 2 10 foot long 2 x 12s for ramps. my husband and i roll the bale into the truck (easily doable by two but would be better with 3 people. chock the bale like you would your trailer wheels so it doesnt roll back and forth while driving. i take the bale to the remote pasture and roll it out by myself.

    in our pre-tractor days, we used to get our bales one at a time from a neighbor, and he would put them in our truck bed with the front end loader of his tractor, but alas we dont have a front end loader (but i am grateful for my hay spike!)

  16. Anita says:

    If you don’t have a tractor to unload the hay with, lay a couple of ropes lengthwise on the trailer before loading the hay. To unload the hay pull the front end of the ropes over the top of the bale and tie them to anything that is sturdy. Just drive off with the trailer and the bale will unload.

  17. Boyd Helton says:

    The evolution in hay management was inevitable. I realized some years ago as a young cow / calf herdsman that the sprial formation of the bale presented an opportunity to conserve hay during feeding. Notice how the animals are able to pull away large sheets from the round side, searching through the hay turning the extremely tight unit into a loose and scattered pile that rapidly decreases in nutritional value because of weather and animal waste.

    My idea was to limit access to the flat ends only, this would be with a bale that has not been stored outside or if stored outside you should unroll the bale until all the bad is rolled off down to fresh hay all around before feeding.

    By putting this cylinder into a tough plastic sleeve you would allow them to eat from the dense spiral. Keep in mind from side to side is maximum 62″. That gives the horse a mere 30″ from each side of the sleeve to reach the middle and clean up all the fresh hay.

  18. Ken Johnson says:

    We’re llama folk. We’ve been feeding round bales for three or four years. We get big, beautiful 1500# bales here in northern Alabama for 1/10 the cost of 45# squares, so even with wastage, it’s been worth it. We’ve learned some tricks I’d like to share.
    Llamas are a little easier on structures than horses (they’re a whole lot smaller, obviously), eat far less, and probably have different toilet habits than horses (for one, they tend to poop in toilet areas, even piles, instead of all over), so take all this “wisdom” (ha!) with this in mind. Might help for those with one or two horses who won’t finish a full round bale in a week or two, though.
    We’ve had good success with using 6′ tall portable chain link dog run panels to enclose three sides of a round bale. The opening is >downhilluphilleye to the back of the trailerslide

  19. Mikki says:

    Please, do continue, Ken. Any advice on this would be appreciated!

  20. Rebecca says:

    Just use a round bale feeder that is used for cows, our horses just eat over the top and then when it gets low they eat through the spots designed for cows. It really works

  21. Larry says:

    Have any studies been done on which way is better to feed round bales? On the side or on the flat side down. I have webbed round bales and was thinking that if the horses ate their way down the flat side it would save hay but have not tried it at this point. My stallions all have a hay shed but will pull the hay out from under it at times.

  22. Cindy says:

    Has anyone ever gotten a round bale to save on cost – store it in the barn, and doled out portions at meal times? I have one horse and I have to monitor her diet pretty closely – if I were to give her a round bale – she would be round!
    Round bales are a lot cheaper than squares right now – and I was wondering if this could be an option.

  23. Bill says:

    Larry, I bet there have been such studies but I haven’t seen any. What made a HUGE difference for us is using a round bale feeder. We’ve been using one for a while now and it really does work. I’ll have to post Part 4 and talk about that. Basically the horses don’t have the opportunity to walk all over the hay. It stays within the confines of the feeder and the horses also seem to be uniformly separated while eating it, which reduces fighting.

    Cindy, I think that’s a great idea and I’ve wondered about that myself. In old-timey pictures and at museums I see evidence of pitchforks dishing out hay rations. I imagine square bales are a somewhat newer invention.

    I would say that round bales are fine to use this way but choose carefully, as many round bales are stored out in the open and are loaded with mildew. That’s fine for cows but horses can’t have the mildew hay and usually won’t eat it anyway.

  24. Cindy says:

    Thanks for the reply!
    I may try it.

  25. Lucy Lowe says:

    I, too, am struggling to find the most economical, safe way to feed round bales. During the drought years, I simply unloaded a couple of bales in a convenient spot and the horses finished off most of the hay with very little waster. This winter we are having normal precip. This means that the round bales become surrounded by a sea of mud and poop rather quickly. I am looking into round bale feeders and have been looking at the big bale buddy hay bags myself. Have many of you used them? I refuse to use the horse hay rings because I know of three horses who have had to be put down because of injuries involving metal horse round bale feed rings.
    TC, Lucy

  26. Pingback: The round bale hay experiment - Part 4 · Our First Horse

  27. Wayne says:

    We are a horse rescue ranch. So we have learned by using horse hay metal rings….and have developed a new “haynet”. The net,with round bales, allows the bale to last up to 50% longer, along with creating simulated natural grazing by slower feeding, and slows ingestion- allowing sugar/starch time to digest.

    Please check out our website for more info and pictures.

    Thank you

  28. Rebecca says:

    Hey everyone, I saw mention that if you only have 2 horses then to feed square bales. The problem is that horses are designed to graze 24/7. So unless you have a good pasture to supplement the hay, then you might as well get a good quality round bale so that they can eat all day.

    The horses will only develop a hay belly if it is poor quality hay. The reason is that this hay remains in the cecum longer and accumulates as the microbes have a harder time breaking it down.

    Also, horses are not meal feeders. Unlike people and dogs, they do not have a gall bladder, meaning that bile is secreted into their GI tract continuously as they graze all day. Also feeding lots of grain will end up being more costly and causes your horses to go into bout of dehydration as a highly osmotic content of food is passed throught the GI tract.

    Also keep in mind that by allowing you horse to graze all day or eat on a round bale all day will help eliminate vices such as cribbing and it will alleviate boredom.

    I just started my two on a round bale and they are making a huge mess of it. I’m going to purchase the bale buddy. I notice that they don’t spend 100% of their time eat, they still wander around my barren pasture and visit the neighbors horses of the fence line too.

    Hope that my comments are helpful.

    Veterinary Student

  29. Jean says:

    Has anyone used the Bale Buddy? I really want to try it, but my husband says the horses will destroy it with their feet.

  30. Marie says:


    I own 12 horses. I use round bales, but I don’t put them out in the field. I keep the round bales on the flat side on a pallet near the shed. I remove the webbing and unroll the hay into a wheel barrel and then put it out in the pasture in wooden hay feeders. It’s more work, but it’s more economical

  31. Rebecca says:

    I love the Bale Buddy! The horses haven’t yet destroyed it. I got thru one bale every two weeks with two horses eating on it all day long. When the bale gets low the horses make more of a mess of the hay and tend to poop in it. But it works better than just having the bale on a pallet because then they were pawing at it and making a huge mess. hope that is helpful!


  32. Pingback: The round bale hay experiment - Part 2 · Our First Horse

  33. Pingback: The round bale hay experiment - Part 5 · Our First Horse

  34. dennis broe says:

    why dont all of you just make a feeder inline with your fence 4 posts 6 2by 12s put a panel or gate in front just bring bale out open gate slide in never go in pen greatest thing i ever did dont use boards high up or will rub mane off

  35. Pingback: The round bale hay experiment – Part 1 | Our First Horse

  36. Sheryl says:

    I hope those poor horses are ALIVE after your “experiment”! You bught MOLDY cattle hay which should NEVER be fed to horses. You could end up with a LARGE vet bill or worse a DEAD horse. YOu need to buy barn kept HORSE hay. Beleive me its more expensive but what price can you put on your horses life?

  37. Bill says:

    Sheryl, we only buy barn-kept horse hay. I don’t remember why this one was moldy on the outer layer. It’s possible it was on the bottom of a stack. Either way, we unrolled the moldy part and checked the inside to make sure it wasn’t also moldy. And I agree that although horses will naturally choose to not eat moldy hay, it’s always best to not give them the option.

  38. Susan says:

    We also feed round bales. We have built a small covered structure (using landscaping timbers & plywood) just big enough for the bale. We put it in the center of our divided pasture so it is accessible from both sides. One side of the feeder (for putting the roll in) is just a sheet of plywood with a landscaping timber across the top that slides into a gap. We have very little waste and the hay stays dry unless it rains sideways! Small acreage management requires a sacrifice area (ends up barren) where you can put the horses so your pasture can rest and also to keep them off when you lime/fertilize. It is a small expense to fence off an area, but it is worth it to keep the rest of your pasture healthy.

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