How Long Will a Round Bale Last?

Most round bales will last 5-14 days without a feeder depending on the number horses being fed. With our round bale hay net, you can get an extra 3-7 days out of a bale and experience an increase in hay savings upwards of 50%.  Some folks may get even more than that.  There are several different factors that affect bale life: feeder type, herd size, hay quality, bale size, and climate to name a few.


If you’re lucky enough to have horses that clean up every drop of hay, count your blessings. Unfortunately for the rest of us, many horses refuse to eat hay once it hits the ground. Some play with it, some use it as a bed or as a personal bathroom. Once this happens, they have no interest in eating it and rightfully so. No horse owner wants their animals eating unsanitary forage.

Studies on equine hay waste have shown that horses will waste about 60% of a bale when no feeder is used. If you paid $100 for a bale, that’s $60 dollars of wasted, uneaten hay. Not to mention the time wasted in having to clean up or burn the ruined hay. The same study revealed how much hay you can save based on the type of hay feeder you use. For example, round bale nets had the best results with only 6% waste and were the least expensive to buy. Hay rings produced about 20% waste which is better than no feeder but still no match against a net.

A popular feeder combination is using a round bale net with a hay ring. This minimizes waste and keeps animals from pawing, rubbing, scratching, or standing on the bale. Preventing these behaviors will help the net last longer and prevent shod animals from hooking a shoe. An important note about shoes, if your horses have shoes, we strongly recommend using a solid barrier, like a hay ring, between the hoof and the net.

Clearly any feeder is better than no feeder at all. Read the full report and decide which set up works best for you.

Herd Size 

Do you have 2 horses or 20?  Obviously, a bale will last much longer with 2 horses than with 20.  To get a better idea of real-life expectations, we surveyed customers who are using our round bale hay net. Here are some of the results.  

Owners with 2 or 3 horses typically get 10-15 more days out of a bale when using a net with 1.75" holes. These customers reported that their round bale lasted 20-25 days total. Double the normal numbers of days without a net.    

Owners with 4-7 horses get 4-7 more days out of a bale when using a net. They reported that their bales last 8-10 days instead of 5-7.

An important note about the number of horses per bale when using a net. We recommend putting no more than 5 horses on a bale at a time. If you have more than 5, it’s best to put out more than 1 bale if possible. This will help reduce feeding time stress and competition.  There is only so much space around a bale. If there are too many heads, horses that are lower on the totem pole may find themselves struggling to find a spot at the bale to eat.

Hay Quality

Typically, the higher quality the forage the faster they will eat it.

Some varieties of grass are more palatable than others.  Meaning that some types of hay are tastier and more appetizing than others.  For example, alfalfa is usually favored over mixed grass.  If you were to put out a bale of each at the same time, you can bet they will tear through the alfalfa first and consume it much faster than the mix.  They may not even touch the mix until the alfalfa is completely gone and even then they may take their time picking through it.

Several customers have confirmed this with other types of hay as well. When they put Bermuda rolls out the bale would be gone in 7 days or less. No exceptions. However, when they put a mixed bale out it took nearly 2 weeks for them to finish the bale, especially if the weather is nice and eating is not their top priority.

Round Bale Size vs Horse Size

Are you feeding a 4x4 or 6x6?  Naturally, a bigger round bale will last longer.  To understand exactly how many days your round bale will last, you need to know much your bale weighs and how much your horse(s) weigh.

A good rule of thumb is that horses will eat 14-25lbs of hay a day. At a minimum, they should eat 1.5% of their body weight each day. For example, if you have 4 horses that are 1000lbs each, you can expect them to eat at least 15lbs a piece each day or 60lbs/day total (1000 x .015=15lbs x 4 horses). If your bale weighs 800lbs and they eat just the minimum, then you would get about 13 days from the bale if there is ZERO waste (800lb bale/60lb day). If there is any hay waste, you can expect that number to drop to 6.5-8 days.


During cold periods, horses will consume more hay in order to keep warm. Wet and windy weather also requires an increase in calories in order to burn the energy needed to keep warm. The digestive process produces heat and could be considered the horse’s internal wood burning stove. You may notice they spend more time at the bale in the winter, especially when a harsh cold snap hits.  

During really cold winter months where the weather is consistently below freezing, your horse is likely to eat more than 1.5% of his weight. In fact, he could eat 3% or more depending on how harsh the climate. If we use the previous example of 4 horses at 1000lbs each on an 800lb bale eating 3% of their weight, you can estimate that each horse will eat about 30lbs a day (120lbs/day total). That means the bale would last about 6.5 days (800lbs/120lb day).

Round bales typically last the longest in spring, summer, and fall. As the weather warms up, the calorie requirement drops and they are not as focused on consumption. Horses eat at more leisurely pace and tend to engage more in other herd activities.

Key Takeaways

  • Horses can waste 60% of a round bale when no feeder is used. If you use a hay feeder to eliminate waste, you can get 3-14 more days out of your bale depending on the type of feeder, number of horses, bale size and time of year.
  • Hay nets have the best results when it comes to saving hay.
  • Know about how much your bale and horse’s weigh. Those two factors will help you estimate how long a bale should last. 
  • Be prepared for your horse(s) to eat more in severely cold weather.

Check out our full line of hay nets to see what products might fit into your feeding routine.