Comparing Round Bale Feeders for Horses

The following is a study-based article I wrote for The Horse in 2011.  I don’t usually feed round bales to my horses, but I happened to be feeding them the year I wrote this article since that was mostly what we’d baled that year.  We began using a homemade round bale feeder right after I wrote this article and saw a big difference in the amount of hay wastage and the length of time it took our horses to go through the round bale. 

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Economics of Round Bale Feeders Examined

round bale feeder 264x300 Comparing Round Bale Feeders for Horses

Because of their affordability and convenience round bales of hay are a popular feeding choice for horses, but controlling horses’ hay intake is difficult, and feeding round bales can result in excessive hay waste. Several round-bale feeders are available for horses, but how well do they prevent hay waste? And are they cost-effective?

A group of researchers from the University of Minnesota recently put nine different round-bale feeder designs to the test.

“The objectives of this study were to determine hay waste, hay intake, and economics of nine round-bale feeder designs and a no-feeder control when used in feeding horses,” said Krishona Martinson, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science and lead author of the study.

Using 25 mature, nonworking Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds, the researchers rotated five groups of five horses among outdoor paddocks, each containing one of the nine feeder designs or the no-feeder control.

Feeders used were:

  • Cinch Net ($147; Cinch Chix LLC);
  • The cone ($1,195; Weldy Enterprises);
  • Covered Cradle ($3,200; SM Iron Inc.);
  • Hayhut ($650; Hayhuts LLS);
  • Hay Sleigh ($425; Smith Iron Works);
  • The ring ($300; R & C Livestock);
  • Tombstone ($250; Dura-Built);
  • Tombstone Saver ($650; HiQual); and
  • Waste Less ($1,450; JSI Innovations LLC).

Researchers collected, dried, and weighed excess hay surrounding the feeders (or not attached to the core bale in the no-feeder control) daily. After a four-day period, all consumable hay left inside a feeder also was removed, dried, and weighed, and horses were transferred to another paddock and fed a new bale.

Upon review their findings, the researchers concluded:

  • All feeders resulted in an intake of 2.0-2.4% body weight (BW) and met digestible energy (DE) requirements for horses;
  • With the no-feeder control, hay intake was 1.3% BW and the DE requirements were not met;
  • All feeders reduced waste when compared to the no-feeder control;
  • The Waste Less and Cinch Net resulted in the least amount of waste at 5% and 6% respectively; and
  • The Hay Sleigh resulted in the greatest amount of waste (33%); however, not utilizing a feeder resulting in 57% waste.

The cost of feeders as well as ability to reduce hay waste affected economics. The team described payback as figuring the number of months for the reduction in waste (compared to the control) to repay feeder cost using hay valued at $100/ton.

Key economics findings included:

  • The Cinch Net payback was the fastest; however, the team noted this feeder is recommended for use with another feeder due to its tendency to collapse (due to its material makeup) allowing for horse defecation on remaining hay after a few days;
  • The Tombstone was the second-most affordable feeder followed closely by the Ring–both having a two-month payback period;
  • The Covered Cradle resulted in the longest payback period (20 months); and
  • As hay value increases, feeder payback is reduced.

“Round-bale feeder design affected hay waste and feeder payback, but not horse safety, estimated intake, or pen weight change during the feeding period,” the team concluded. “The take-home message is a feeder must be used when feeding round bales to horses.”

For more information on the study results, visit www.extension.umn.edu/horse/components/pdfs/round_bale1.pdf. The study, “Round-bale feeder design affects hay waste and economics during horse feeding,”will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Animal Science in October 2011. The abstract is available online.

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