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Feeding Round Bales for the First Time - Help!

Any tips for feeding round bales to horses for the first time? I’ve got a trustworthy hay supplier and my horses are all vaccinated for botulism, but I’m looking to reduce the amount of labor I’m doing through the winter, and putting out hay in nets 2x a day is probably up there on my list of chores I can actually do something about.

My concerns:

I don’t have anywhere to store round bales (although my hay guy is 10 minutes away and always delivers to me within a week, so maybe not a huge issue?)

My ground gets wet and muddy in the winter, and I expect this problem would be compounded with horses standing around a feeder and smashing hay into the ground. I can put down stone dust around my feeders, but how effective are the hay huts + a hay net at stopping hay waste? I don’t want to spend less time moving hay only to spend more time with the farrier because our feet are getting decimated by the mud

Also, I’m worried my tractor is too small to move a round bale. It’s a subcompact. I do have a counterweight behind and I don’t have to move the bales far. We’re flat as a pancake here, so I could always roll them into place by hand.

I’m just not 100% sure and don’t really want to drop the money on a hay hut/hay nets if it’s not going to save much time/labor.


Tried one once without a hay hut, never again. It made such a mess and created so much waste. Mostly the horses used it as a place to poop and sleep. And it killed the grass underneath. I can’t answer your question about how much hay huts help but without something to protect the hay-- my horses ruined it immediately.

So this is dependent, of course, on your personal set up, but I’ve made it work for the past 20 years at the two places we’ve had horses.

We have the round bale in a covered lean-to adjacent to the barn, sitting on pallets. The horse pen is a few steps away. I pitch hay to them twice a day, putting it in piles under their fence line. It’s extremely efficient - practically zero waste, the horses don’t over eat and it’s easy for a farmsitter to manage if needed. On very windy or wet days, I have several slow feed nibble nets that I hang on the fence.

My horses are fat, old, and happy. Hope that’s a help.

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I do hay huts with nets and there is pretty much zero waste. I don’t have any storage room either but my supplier is really close. I have 2 huts- basically I flip them, drive out in the field with my truck, push the round bales off, flip the hut back over it and ta da. It takes a bit of muscle but it’s doable by just one person


Whether you can roll them by hand or not is questionable. Round bale sizes and weights vary. We make “small” rounds, and they are 625 lbs. I can’t roll them by hand alone. Two humans usually can, if the ground is firm and flat. Big rounds can be double this size and weight. I can pick our bales up in the bucket of my 35 HP Kubota tractor, I wrap a cargo strap around them, hooked onto the bucket. It’s pretty much a maximum load for this tractor. I could get a spike instead of the bucket, but I use the bucket for many other things, so prefer to keep doing it this way.
I don’t often use a feeder with a full bale in it. I usuallypeel off as much as I want to supply, put it in a wheelbarrow and wheel it out into the paddock to feed. You can put it in a net or feeder. The feeders I use are huge logging skidder tires with one sidewall cut off to make a huge tub, five feet wide and three +feet high. One bale of our hay will fit in one of these feeders, I can drop it in there with the tractor. (take the strings off it first, the cargo strap will hold it together for the trip out there). If you have a rainy/wet environment (I don’t), leaving the bale out there for days until it is finished wouldn’t be my choice. Hay hut would help with this…but $$$$$. And the bales you have must fit in the hut you have. And getting them out there and into the hut with horses present and in the way is a pita.
If you only have a few horses, you will get less waste by taking each meal out to them, rather than leaving a bale out there. Perhaps slightly more work, but you need to inspect each horse daily for problems, injury etc anyway. I don’t use a net over the hay, the tubs keep it fairly well contained.
Make sure that the round bales you purchase are suitable quality for horses…some aren’t.

I think your results will depend on your horses and the quality of the hay. I did round bales last year for the first time and was surprised by how little waste there was. Maybe 40 pounds wasted per round bale. I didn’t use a hay hut.

But I’ve also seen other peoples’ horses using their hay as a bed. So your results may vary. All but one of my horses is extremely food driven which helps.

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Where I live round bales are a substantial savings over square bales, but often of less quality. But it’s also super wet here, both climate and ground. Even feeding baled hay outdoors, you get deep mud and wet moldy hay trampled in.

I think a round bale could be really workable in a cold dry ranch environment. Also they work best of you have a larger herd that can eat through them within a week or so. If it’s 600 lbs, at 20 lbs per horse per day, that’s 30 horse days, so 6 horses would finish it in 5 days, 10 horses would finish in 3. Less time to get musty or bored. It might not work so well for 2 horses who take 15 days to eat that much

If you wanted to ramp up to a round bale system, you could try feeding multiple bales at once in a huge net. If you have 50 lb bales, one bale per horse every 2 days.

In our climate I think a round bale would need good shelter and not to sit out too long. Even in a lean to with a floor, hay will get mildewy here.


I’m in FL and have fed rounds for years.
I use a gay ring and for a while also a net until the net finally died.
I put it in the ring and they eat every scrap.
I do move the roll every time I put out a new one, and drag where it was so that prevents them standing in muck eating.
We do have a spear on a middle sized tractor which makes for easier unloading but prior to that I would have it loaded on the round size and then just back up and wham on brakes so it would roll out.

As far as storage , I can’t store more than 2 at a time in addition to what is being eaten. I put them under the peaks of my GN trailers. If I know there is a batch of wet weather coming I just buy one at a time until it quits. Let the feed store keep it dry .

@Annie10 what hay ring are you using?

I’m in the NE. It’s wet all four seasons here.

We’ve been feeding round bales for almost 20 years. We’ve tried all kinds of methods. What worked for us is put a wooden pallet down, roundbale on top of it, cover with a Haychix Hay Net, then Hay Hut.

It’s an expensive cost up front, but I would do it again fifty times. The Hay Hut keeps the round bale dry and eliminates herd squabbles. The HayChix Net reduces wastage significantly. Together, they produce almost zero hay waste. I’d say about a few flakes’ worth of hay once the round bale is gone - really very little in the scheme of things.

I was feeding for years without a hay net, and it ruined sections of our paddock because the horses would waste hay faster than I could pick it up, it would get trod underfoot requiring the skidsteer to remove, would create a mud patch with poor drainage, etc. We would also have to move the location of the Hay Hut every new round bale, because of how much hay was wasted and how muddy it got underfoot. I wish I’d bought the hay net sooner, but I balked at the cost (~$300). One year I got sick of it because the skidsteer broke. Really wish I’d bought it years before that. With the Hay Hut plus HayChix Hay Net, we really only need to move every couple of refills, or when the ground gets muddy enough.

Our five horses go through a 650lb round bale about every 5 to 7 days, depending on the weight and season.

The bonus to our set-up is that one person can do it solo. It’s much easier with two, of course. We pick up the round bale from our local hay supplier, roll it off of the truck, tilt the roundbale onto a pallet, cover with the hay net, cover with the Hay Hut. It’s a 5 minute job with two people, about a 10m job solo.

Oh – I learned you can make it easier for yourself solo by using your truck to push the round bale onto the pallet. :wink:


I had a big black rubber thing for awhile and it died, so now I have one of those big metal ones, but not the tombstone kind for cattle

I fed round bales to my horses for the first time when I was on work trip to make it easier for DH.

Make sure you net it to control the consumption. My two horses and one pony ate 2 TWO 900 lb round bales in 6 days. :flushed: I literally had to order a new girth for their fat butts.

They didn’t waste hardly any but they pooped in a circle around it.

I pushed them with my tractor vs picking them up or hand rolling to move them.

I feed square bales normally and have the big shire hay nets that hold a 55-60 lb bale. I usually just throw out 4 bales and a couple smaller hay nets and that lasts a good 2-3 days. I have enough nets that I fill them on Sundays and just have to put them out in the field. Makes it seem easier.

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In my experience, hay nets pay for themselves within a couple of months just in the amount of hay they save.

With two or three horses on a bale, it does need some kind of containment or it will collapse and spread out inside the net. Of course containment is a must if any of the horses are shod.

I built a fence in 5’ sections for my netted bale, and had a pallet under the bale. I have often wished I’d just done 6’ sections.

In the summer, netted bales can heat up and go moldy very quickly if they get soaked.

DH and I have built a really easy containment system for round bales for where my retired horse lives. Four pieces of 4x4 on the corners, deck boards at the top and middle to form a square. Flip round bale off truck onto a pallet, place square over. Done. I think we went for middle of chest height. My horse is the pig and fatty of the group so he wears a muzzles much of the year .
Rounds in our area are about 600-700 pounds. They can be rolled and flipped by two people. Very little waste. In the dead of winter I think she goes through 1 bale every 2.5-3.5 weeks. She buys 2 at a time and keeps the 2nd one in the barn until the first one is gone. Rolls it down the hill to the feeder. I thinks she unloads the first one directly in the field. 3 horses only out during the day, in at night.

At my work we use 5 raised round bale feeders that cover 7 fields. Two of the feeders are in a fenceline so two fields access the same feeder. Farm has a tractor with bale spear to put the bales in those feeders. All of these feeders sit on areas that have stone dust to minimizes mud.

for my one horse the round fit into the corner of his shelter and the waste made a cozy bed, 2 people can roll it in.In Summer the round went outside on its side so that any rain rolled off and didn’t penetrate the top of the bale.Flies breed in the warm wet leftovers, especially outside, so be prepared to do something to prevent that.
Nets represented too much of a risk to my shod easily frustrated and rather silly horse (and i’ve heard can be hard on teeth too?)

I don’t know how big your bales are, but this is what I do in Australia.

I get IBC pods off of farmers for about $100 each (used). The bladder comes out. There are a few ways you can use them, and they fit a 3’X4’ round perfectly.

You can take the bladder out and chuck the bale in. Gets messy quickly.

Or I use 4cm hayfeeder nets over the entire bale. In the paddock with unshod horses, the bale goes into the bladder without the steel pod. I cut the top off of the bladder and it mostly keeps all the hay inside of it.

In the paddock with the shod horse and the foal, the bale goes into the steel cube. The cube has been cut down to about 3/5 of the height (so the top two horizontal bands come off, and the uprights are ground down smooth). I then wrap the outer of the cube in shadecloth. The bale in the net goes in to the cube, and I tie it down at points so when it is low, the horses don’t pull the net out of the cube.

I will try to get some photos of the set up.

Each IBC pod provides one steel cage and one bladder.

I have the feeders set up under shelters (most of the time) and my husband drags the dead hay and poo out with his tractor every so often. In our wet season it gets very boggy and my plan is to eventually raise the level with roadbase.

I have done the “fill hay nets from the round twice a day” dance recently and it gets old FAST.


Not my setup but similar. The poster has used the cut-down bladder as the inner instead of shadecloth, and it’s cut lower than mine. (obviously doesn’t have a round bale in it either)

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The breeding facility I work for has fed rounds for the better part of 30 years.
The key is herd numbers vs the size of the bale so it takes no longer than a week for them to eat unless the weather is good and you have a feeder that holds it off the ground. We have several pastures that use regular ring feeders and a couple that suspend the bale on a wooden floor with a metal ski frame that makes it easy to move around the drag to a new location.

You’ll also want to be careful of how you set the bale down. If you set it down like a donut, with the flat side of the bale on the ground and facing up, you’ll allow the entire bale to suck up moisture from the ground and any rain moisture will be sucked into the top.
I set mine down in the position that it can roll in theory but it’s able to draw up a lot less moisture that way.

Fields that I don’t have feeders that hold it off the ground I’ve even put it on the edge of the stone wall that runs through that field. Just using any resources
I have to keep it off the wet ground.

At my house, I have a feeder like the one I screen shot below. It’s nice that it’s light and easy to move around by hand. I have 3 mares at my house so obviously there’s some waste with bales if we get a string of bad weather but I play the $ comparison.
If I fed small squares I would feed 2 bales a day (maybe more if it was super cold). Small squares of the same quality hay from my supplier are $6/bale. So 2 bales a day is $12. The round bales I get are $45/bale so if the round bale lasts me more than 4 days, I’m coming out ahead. If the weather is good at home, the bale will last me 2 weeks.

If you go with a feeder that holds the bale off the ground, is it possible for your hay guy to drive up to your feeder and roll it into it? That would be the easiest way if you don’t have a tractor to easily move it around.

only I wish for those prices, small squares here are in the $16 range, large rounds are near $200, so we just default to importing three string teff at about $600 a ton which nearly Every piece is eaten

When we fed rounds, we had space to store them out of the pastures on concrete where we would just basically unroll them feeding the loose hay

I have had bad luck with horses doing stupid things with feeders. It’s kinda of like coastal hay - you’re fine until you’re not.
I’ve had nasty dumb lacerations and scars from them. …just when you think they are fine they do something dumb.

So I accept the wastage and let my horses have that extra wasted hay as their “hay bed”.

I used to have a tb mare that would take hay out of the roundbale feeder just to make herself a nice hay bed.