Hay supplies are tightening as winter draws to a close, making it difficult for horse owners to find small square bales. So they may want to take a close look at large rounds, says Phil Kaatz, an area field crops specialist with Michigan State University Extension. He offers the following for horse owners to consider if they’re looking to switch:

Round bales usually cost less on a per-ton basis. According to recent postings on the Michigan Hay Sellers List, small square bale prices were averaging approximately $165/ton while large round bales were selling for an average of $107/ton.

Storage can be an issue. To prevent losses, round bales stored outside should be raised off the ground and wrapped in plastic or covered with a heavy tarp that provides sufficient ventilation.

Specialized machinery may be needed. Most round bales average 500-800 lbs/bale. “Having a large-enough tractor and a bale spear to move these bales is a must,” says Kath.

Horses may waste more hay. Since large bales are fed outside, rainy weather or mud can affect hay losses, horse intake and weight loss. Feeders should be moved to a high-and-dry location as often as necessary.

A different feeding system may be required. The kind of feeder used and where it’s located may affect total feed cost per horse. University of Minnesota Extension’s Selecting a Round-Bale Feeder For Use During Horse Feeding compares nine round-bale feeder designs. Discussed are hay waste, horse safety, horse weight changes and the economics of feeder payback. To read a short synopsis with photos of each feeder, visit Hay Feeders Save Horse Owners Money. For a story on the study’s results click here.