They’re handy, those big round bales weighing a half ton or more. From the right hay producer, round hay bales can contain hay of the same quality as small square bales. And with a tractor or skid steer loader you can plop one into a round-bale feeder and let your horses enjoy free choice feed until the round bale is gone.
The horse that tends to overeat can be put in a nearby corral for part of each day or night. It’s a handy system, and a very common one for horses in my part of the West.
But there’s a downside. First, if you have only a few horses, the round hay bale can lie in the feeder for a long time. Unless the feeder has a roof, like some models do, weather will deteriorate the bale. Further, as the horses chew, small particles of hay will tend to sift to the bottom, making the tail end of the round hay bale dustier than when it was fresh.
And then there’s the type of horse I call the nonstop eater. This is the horse that burrows his nose into the bale and doesn’t come up for air. He lazily feeds with his nose deeply buried, breathing hay particles as he eats. Even if the hay is of high quality, this syndrome can be dangerous. It’s a sure formula for the respiratory problem chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly known as COPD or heaves.
Round-bale feeders tend to work best if you have a half-dozen or more horses that consume hay fairly rapidly. These feeders also work best with grass rather than alfalfa bales.
Be extra cautious of hay quality, and look out for the nonstop eater. He might have to be removed from the group and fed separately.
(For Dan Aadland’s full article on feed and water concerns for the trail horse, see “Feed to Succeed,” see The Trail Rider, September/October ’11.)