Horses are big beautiful creatures who, like any pet, need a lot of feeding and exercise. Creating a balanced lifestyle for your horse relies on how you balance both diet and exercise, which requires research into which hay to feed your horses.
Hay is an integral part of a horse’s diet and contains a lot of important nutrients that horses benefit from.
If you have just bought a horse, or are considering buying one, you need to know how to feed your horse well and keep them happy – understanding the pricing of your pet’s food is important for longevity of care.
If the winter period is coming around, this is the perfect time to use hay to feed your horses and cattle while the new season comes around, so you will need to prepare for the whole winter season.
You may be wondering what hay is, hay is a dried grass commonly used in agriculture to feed cattle and horses alike as it is both inexpensive and nutritious. Although people often get hay confused with straw.
Do you remember the last time you went to the county fair and got a hay ride? That was most likely straw. Straw refers to the plant material that is a by-product of the harvesting process of certain grains like wheat and barley. It is the grain that is harvested and used whereas the plant’s husky material is left behind – this is what we know as straw.
Straw is often low value and not usable as food for animals, it is instead repurposed for things like hay rides, stuffing mattresses, and making hats. Conversely, hay is the purposeful harvest of grasses that are nutritious such as ryegrass, alfalfa, bermudagrass, and clover.
These plants are harvested before they seed and still have leaves which often carry most of the nutrition.
This guide will provide the fundamental information you need to know to buy the best hay bale for your horse without breaking the bank.
How Much Hay Does A Horse Eat?
Horses actually consume 1 – 2.5% of their body weight in hay per day, so your supply of this depends on both the weight of your horse and how many horses you have.
A simple calculation using this formula will help you get a good idea of how much hay you need and prepare you for how much hay your horse will get through over a period of time
For example, let’s say you have two horses that each weigh 1000lbs and you wanted to feed them for a week – how much hay would you feed them? 2.5% of 1000lbs is 25lbs, which means each horse will eat 25lbs of hay per day.
This means that each week each horse will need 175lbs of hay per week, and you will need at least 350lbs of hay in order to feed all the horses in your stable. Use this equation to figure out how much your own horses will need to eat for a week.
How Much Hay Is In A Round Bale?
Firstly, square bales and round bales are pretty similar; the only difference between the shape of a bale is simply how it was harvested.
Modern farming methods which utilise machinery create round and compact bales of hay. Whereas square bales of hay are usually made by hand. Often a square bale of hay can only weigh between 50-60lbs, whereas a round bale of hay can weigh up to 1000lbs.
Usually, one round bale has the same amount of hay as taround 20 square bales. Before your purchase make sure you are clear on how much your bale of hay weighs, as this will affect your calculations for how much you need. A round bale of hay that weighs 1000lbs could feed two horses for nearly three weeks.
Types Of Hay
As hay can be made from different grasses and plants, including a mix of different plants, it’s important to know what types of hay are available as different varieties have different nutritional profiles and prices.
Most, but not all, hay falls under two categories of legume hay and grass hay. Each has different nutritional benefits, legume hay has more protein and calcium whereas grass hay is higher in fibre.
You have to decide which hay is better for your animals and the purposes you have given to those animals. Oftentimes, the best hay to choose in the hay that is naturally present in your environment.
One of the most popular hays in North America is the notorious Alfalfa Hay. Not indegenous to North America, Alfalfa Hay is one of the first domesticated forages.
It was harvested in what is now Iraq thousands of years ago likely for the same agricultural purposes. It was brought to North America in the Gold Rush as it fit perfectly with the soil and climate of US soil. Alfalfa Hay is often more expensive than other hays due to its protein rich features.
Alfalfa Hay is one of the most protein dense of all hay, this is something you must take into consideration when feeding your horse and choosing hay.
If you feed your horse Alfalfa Hay then you should also factor this into their exercise routine. If the horse doesn’t work and isn’t used much then it could become overweight and potentially suffer stomach ulcers if their diet isn’t balanced with exercise.
On the other hand, if you have an underweight horse then Alfalfa Hay is perfect to bring the horse back to a comfortable weight, which is why Alfalfa Hay is the choice for horse rescue stables.
Oat Hay is a grass hay that is often used for smaller animals like rabbits, or is supplemented with Alfalfa Hay in order to have a more diverse nutritional profile. Oats are high in starch and fiber and are a cereal crop.
One disadvantage to Oat Hay is that some horses have trouble digesting all the plant material, this is horse dependent, but is important to factor into your hay choice.
Timothy Hay, named after a US farmer of the eighteenth century, is similar to Oat Hay and is dense in fiber and energy while being much finer.
The finer quality of Oat Hay means it is much more digestible than Oat Hay while still boasting a similar nutritional profile. It can be harvested in multiple ways which can optimise different aspects of its nutritional profile and dependant on its usage.
If fibre is important in your horse’s diet then Timothy Hay can be a more digestible alternative to Oat Hay.
Common in the south of the United States, Bermudagrass Hay is an inexpensive alternative to other grass hays. It is typically lower in protein than other hays but can have a much more vitamin rich nutritional profile.
Bermudagrass Hay can be a great choice to feed horses that are older, or overweight, and don’t require such a protein rich diet. Bermudgrass Hay is commonly mixed with other hays for its vitamin and fiber rich qualities.
Where To Buy Round Hay Bales, And Tips For Saving Money
The two most common places to purchase bales of hay are from agricultural supply companies who sell and harvest hay on an industrial and corporate scale, or directly from a stables or farm.
Hay is often bought in bulk at the start of a season and is stored in preparation for winter. As with almost all crops, there will always generally be less of the crop in winter due to it not being grown.
Agricultural supply chains will generally have more supply of hay than farmers. So if you want to buy in bulk, which is useful if your horses are fed only with hay, then an agricultural supply company could easily provide you with hay.
One issue with agricultural supply chains is that their price will be set and will change with the market.
One advantage of going directly to a farmer is that they can offer you discounted prices on their hay. This may be if you work with the farmer on other agricultural projects, or if they have surplus hay they want to get rid of and replace with fresh hay for the new season.
Depending on your relationship with a farmer or stable owner you may be able to negotiate a price depending on you being a return customer or in exchange for other goods. The one downside of buying directly from a farmer is that they may not be able to supply you with the quantity of hay that you need.
Conversely, if you have a stable that is located in a metropolitan area then there might not be a wide selection of farms in your local area.
How Much Does A Round Bale Of Hay Actually Cost?
The easiest way to understand how round bales of hay are priced is by both their weight and the variety of grass that has been baled. Hay prices are generally allocated within four different ‘grades’ that depend on the hay’s quality and weight.
Prime Hay will be the most expensive but the highest quality bales out there. Commonly, one large round of prime hay will be priced between $150 – $250.
A large round hay bale classed at Grade 1 will cost anywhere between $100 – $200.
A large round hay bale classed at Grade 2 will cost anywhere between $70 – $180
A large round hay bale classed at Grade 3 will cost anywhere between $50 – $150.