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University of Minnesota Extension

Selecting a small square-bale feeder

Small square-bale feeder design affects the following when used for feeding adult horses in outdoor paddocks.

  • Hay waste

  • Estimated hay intake

  • Herd bodyweight change

  • Payback

These factors can aid horse owners and professionals select small square-bale feeders and estimate hay needs.

Small square-bale feeder designs
Basket, slat and hayrack feeders (from left to right)

Hay is usually the largest and most costly part of a horse’s diet. Hay waste can occur during both storage and feeding. It can add up to over 40 percent depending on,

  • Forage type

  • Storage method

  • Environment

  • Storage length

Most horse owners feed their horses small square-bales in outdoor paddocks. So, we looked at the effect of small square-bale feeder design on hay waste, feed intake and cost when used outdoors

Testing small square-bale feeders

We looked at three different feeder designs and one control.

  • Hayrack ($280)

  • Slat feeder ($349)

  • Basket feeder ($372)

  • No feeder, hay fed on the ground ($0)

We placed two feeders of each type in separate, outdoor dirt paddocks. We divided 12 adult horses into four similar herds of three. We then rotated each group through the four paddocks after a seven day feeding period.

We weighed the horses before and after each rotation with the difference being herd bodyweight change.

We fed grass hay at 2.5 percent of the herd bodyweight and split it into two feedings at 8:00am and 4:00pm.

We collected waste hay (hay on the ground outside of the feeder) and orts (hay remaining inside the feeder) before each feeding.

We calculated payback on each feeder using hay valued at $250 per ton and improved efficiency over the no-feeder control.


Weather conditions were ideal during the trial period. No injuries occurred from any of the feeders.


Authors: Krishona Martinson, equine Extension specialist, William Lazarus, Extension economist, Emily Glunk, former graduate student, Amanda Grev, graduate student, and Marcia Hathaway, professor emeritus of animal science, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences

Acknowledgement: This project was supported by a grant from the American Quarter Horse Foundation.

Reviewed in 2021

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