Horses have to be fed. Every day, morning and evening. It’s an endless cycle of feed, water, clean up poop and hopefully, there is a bit of time left to enjoy your horse!
Each year the haying season rolls around and it’s the big rush to get hay in the barn before it rains. Depending on how many horses you have, this can be a big project, with a huge sigh of relief when the barn door closes with all the hay for the year stacked. Square bales are very familiar to the horse owner, but there is another option: round bales.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of feeding square bales verses round bales.
Square Bales: Pros
- Small and easy to handle
- Easier to feed a predetermined weight per horse
- Easier to manage the weight of a horse
- If you have horses separated into smaller pens, 1-2 horses per pen, then feeding square bales is much easier
Round Bales: Pros
- Lower cost
- In a pinch, sometimes easier to find
- Feeding is easier if you know that your horse has water and food, you can step away for a couple of days and it’s not a huge hassle for the person helping while you are gone
Square Bales: Cons
- Hard work to stack
- Ideally it’s best to have a barn to put them in
- Mice have chewed through the tarp we had covering a stack and it funneled the moisture down into the stack, which caused it to mold
- Higher cost
- Sometimes, they are harder to locate
Round Bales: Cons
- A tractor is needed to move and place the bales
- More waste if you are free choice feeding your horses
- With more waste, there is more hay to clean up with the poop, which can add volumes to the manure pile
- Cost of a round bale feeder
- With some round bale feeders and some horses, they rub off their manes on the top bar
- If you were to buy your hay for the entire year, you need adequate space to stack the bales
- It is hard to gauge how much you are feeding if using a pitchfork and more than likely you will end up feeding too much
Whichever way you slice the pie, owning livestock is hard work. On paper it looks as if there are fairly equal upsides and downsides to both square and round bales. Now it’s your job to determine what is most important.
We choose each year to stack square bales, about 30 ton. Which is a stinkin’ lot of hay! It’s long, hot days, with dust filled eyes and hay filled teeth. We’ve had our wrecks with small squares, like when mice chewed holes in the tarp covering a stack and a portion of the stack was unusable and then we had to figure out what to do with the ruined hay. But in the end, when the hay is stacked for the year, we feel tremendous relief.
We really work on managing our horse’s weight. The horses we have on our property are ridden quite a lot and fat, overweight horses just aren’t enjoyable to ride (and it’s dangerous for horse and rider! Here’s why.) We also haven’t had access to a tractor in the past, so round bales were very hard to deal with. There have been a few years in the spring when we wintered more horses than expected and were looking for hay. In these cases usually all that was available was round bales, so we had to deal with it the best we could.
Considering we have 10-15 horses penned up in smaller pens, it makes more sense and is much easier to feed square bales. And when every penny counts, hay waste not only adds up to pennies-in-the-wind, but volume. All of that poop and wet, heavy hay has to be piled up and put somewhere.
There are so many aspects to owing a horse that are definitely not portrayed in the movies. Taking good care of your equine friend takes a lot of time, effort and money.
What do you feed your horses? What’s easiest for your setup?
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