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Hay is an essential part of a horse’s diet. However, you may wonder, how much does a bale of hay cost?
The average cost of a square hay bale is between $3 to $10 and $30 to $100 for a round hay bale. There are several factors that can contribute to the cost of hay including the type of hay, size, location, and time of year.
Boarding and training facilities often factor the cost of hay into the monthly board of a horse. Many barns will buy hay in bulk and it is common for horse barns to have a small shed or barn specifically for storing hay.
Factors That Contribute the Price of Hay
You will notice that the price of hay will vary largely. There is never a set price on how much hay will cost as it will vary based on location, time of year, variety of hay, and size of bale. Oftentimes, farmers will grow and sell their own hay.
When hay is readily available, you may see it for as cheap as $3 a square bale, though more likely it will be around $4-6 a bale. In some cases, a square ball may cost $10 or more if is scarce in the area.
Rounds bales can vary more in price as they can also vary more in size. Though you can find round bales for $30, they are often between $30-$70. However, some may cost $70-$100 a more.
You may also see the price of a round bale or even a large square bale be listed by the ton. The price of hay by ton can be anywhere from $100-$200 in general.
Location is on of the biggest factors that determine the price of hay. For those who live closer to rural areas, hay is generally more affordable as it more abundant and readily available.
Places that deal with drought regularly, like Arizona, Nevada, and California, oftentimes have more expensive hay. To grow hay in these states cost more due to needing more water. However, hay is often imported into these states when growing becomes difficult.
When hay is imported into different states, it will be more expensive due to the transportation costs. Texas, Missouri, South Dakota and Kansas are among the states with the most hay grown every year. So these states, along with states close by to them, often have the most affordable hay.
Time of Year
People will often purchase hay in bulk during spring, summer and early fall. As most people buy their hay in advance, prices generally drop during the winter as there is not as much of a demand.
Variety and Size of Hay
The most common sizes of hay bales are square and round. Since square bales are much smaller, they will be cheaper than larger round bales. Though some people set the price per bale, others price hay by weight.
Some of the most common varieties of hay include alfalfa, Timothy, bermudagrass, and oat. Prices will vary by the variety of hay, as they are grown differently. Bermudagrass, which is a common grass variety, will be cheaper than alfalfa, which is a variety of legume hay.
Hay Bale Sizes
The two most common hay bale sizes you will find are square and round. Square bales are ideal for feeding to horses in stalls, as they have flakes, allowing you to proportion your horse’s food. Round bales are ideal for pastures, particularly in winter, but they don’t allow you to keep track of how much your horse is eating.
Large bales are often easier to produce than square bales as less labor goes into preparing the bale. However, due to their large size, they can only be moved with tractors or other vehicles.
The average round bale weighs around 1,200-1,400 pounds, however, some bales may weigh up to 2,000 pounds. The bales are generally wrapped in twine, net wrap, or plastic wrap to make for easier transportation and storage. Generally, round bales are placed in hay feeders or even just on their own in pastures.
Square bales are the most common type of hay you will see at horse barns. Each square bale will have around 12 to 16 flakes, making for easy feeding horses that live in stalls.
A square bale of hay usually weighs between 40-75 pounds. Square bales are held together with two strings of balling twine. They can be stacked and stored in a hay barn for convenience.
Common Types of Hay
Hay comes in two main types: grass and legume. Within grass and legume, there are different varieties of hay. Timothy and Alfalfa tend to be the most common types of hay fed to horses.
Legume hay tends to have a higher content of protein and calcium. On the other hand, grass hay has a higher fiber content than legume varieties. Here are some of the most common varieties of hay fed to horses.
Alfalfa is the most popular type of legume hay and is commonly fed to horses. It contains high levels of protein, fiber and calcium. Generally, it contains thick stems and lots of leaves.
Alfalfa hay is more calorie-dense than other varieties of hay. In fact, the amount of energy in alfalfa is about 120% higher compared to oat hay. Alfalfa does tend to be more expensive than some varieties of grass hay.
Timothy hay is extremely palatable, making it one of the most popular hays to feed. Compared to other grass varieties, it has a higher level of protein, along with a good balance of fiber and calcium.
Timothy is often in the average range in the cost of hay, however, it can get more expensive depending on location. It is a variety of cool-season grass hay.
Bermudagrass, also referred to as coastal, is one of the cheapest varieties of grass hay. It is often grown in the southern United States, with fields being harvested up to 4-5 times a year. Bermudagrass does not contain as much protein as other hays, so it is important to provide other protein-rich foods.
Oat hay offers high levels of protein and nutrients. However, it is higher in sugar, making it not the best choice for insulin-resistant horses.
Oftentimes, oat hay is mixed with alfalfa. When harvested at the right time, this grass hay can be very palpable to horses.
How Much Hay Does a Horse Eat in a Day?
An average horse will eat four to five flakes of hay a day or 15-25 pounds. However, the amount of hay will vary by age, size, and activity level of the horse.
When feeding a horse, it is best to feed horses in small portions throughout the day as they should spend much of their time eating. Horses should be fed hay at least twice a day, however, it is ideal to divide feeding hay into three to four times a day.
Are Round or Square Bales Better for Horses?
Round or square bales can both be great options, depending on your needs. Round bales tend to be cheaper and easier to feed, while also being great for pastures. However, they don’t let you see how much each horse is eating and aren’t ideal for feeding horses that live in stalls.
Square balls are ideal for horses that live in barns. Since square balls have flakes, it makes feeding easier to keep track of.
What Should Good Hay Look Like?
Good quality hay should have a green color to it with a fresh, sweet smell. It should also be loose and flaky, with a good mixture of leaves in it as well.
You don’t want to feed your horse hay that is dull, dusty, and full of sticks. If you notice any mold or mildew, do not feed the hay to your horse.