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Ask the Vet: Feeding Round Bales to Horses

Posted on: August 10, 2010 by Dr. Lydia Gray

I have a boarding barn where the pastures have been eaten down. In lieu of the grass I now put out a fairly decent round bale for the horse to eat off of. I observe their behavior and essentially there are no bullies hogging the bale. Can this practice be acceptable for horses on dry lot when pasture is not available. We also rotate a few of the horses so basically everyone gets 12 hours on the bale and when any horse is in the run with stalls they get their hay in flakes. Everyone is fed a forage type pellet 2 times a day in this rotation and there is ample fresh water available.
– Candace

Dear Candace,
On the surface this sounds like an acceptable practice, although I’m not a huge fan of round bales because they take some effort to feed properly and can provide very inconsistent nutrition. For example, round bales really need to be protected from rain and moisture so they don’t develop mold. You don’t say how many horses you have or how quickly you go through a bale, but consider putting it under cover. Of course, having it in a shelter may cause some dominance behavior to appear, so then you’ll have to address that.

I like that the horses still get flakes of hay separately in their stalls and that they’re getting vitamins, minerals and protein from the pelleted product. Can I assume that salt is available? Your task while feeding a herd of horses from a round bale is to exchange the eaten down one with a fresh one before they are forced to eat potentially harmful material and to closely monitor the body condition score of each horse so you catch any weight loss before it gets severe.

[Ed. note: from the AAEP Ask a Vet]