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The Weight of a Bale of Hay: Round and Square Bales

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My friends and I went to the feed store because we heard there was a good deal on alfalfa hay bales. But it turned out that it was only the three-string bales on sale, and I wasn’t sure I could handle its weight. Which led me to wonder how much do hay bales weigh, not only square bales but also round ones.

A standard two-string square hay bale weighs between 40 and 75 pounds; a three-string square bale weighs over 100 pounds, and some as much as 140 pounds; the average round hay bale weighs about 1,250 pounds, but their weight varies greatly from 563 to 1,584 pounds.

The weight of hay bales can be challenging to determine because many different factors come into play, such as its size, moisture level, and density, all influence a single hay bale’s total weight. Weight matters when you have to load, unload, and store your hay.

Type of HayThree String Bale WeightTwo String Bale WeightRound Bale Weight
Alfalfa110-140 pounds60 to 75 pounds5’x6′ dia 1,200 to 2,000 pounds
Grass Hay75-90 pounds40 to 55 pounds5’x6′ dia 1,270 to 1,700 lbs
Picture of a man carrying a square bale on hay on his shoulder.

This article is one of a series of articles on horse hay I wrote, the main article being: Horse Hay: An Owner’s Guide.

Factors that play a role in the weight of hay bales.

Dealing with hay bales is a part of horse ownership. Horses need hay for their diet; it offers fiber and roughage, which helps support digestion and provides nutrients like protein. It is essential to have a good supply of hay for your horses, but it’s not easy to know which type of hay you need.

When it comes to choosing your hay bale’s size, there are two common concerns for horse owners: is it light enough for you to handle, and do you have adequate storage space? It’s also essential to understand that not all hay bales weigh the same, even if they are the same size.

A bale’s weight varies depending on its density, species, and moisture content and affects the nutritional value and price you pay for each one. Some types of hay are not only more expensive than others, but they may also contain harmful chemicals or additives that could cause harm to your horse’s health.

The size of hay bales influences their weight.

There is a lot to consider when you are buying hay. One of the most critical parts of the equation may be how big and how much do the bales weigh? Generally, square bales are sold in two and three string sizes.

Two-string hay bales are typically  14” high x 18” wide x 35” long, and three-string bales are 16” high x 22” wide x 44” long. Round bales can come in various diameters depending on what size baler was used to make them. Standard sizes are 5 feet wide and 6 feet in diameter or 4 feet wide and 5 feet in diameter.

Most horse owners use square bales because they are uniform, take less storage space, are easy to stack and handle.

Hay bale density plays a role in its weight.

The density of a bale is dependent on its tightness and how much compression was used to form it. A tightly compressed hay bale weighs more than a loose one.

Most balers allow for customizable settings to meet your preferences, plus some offer ways to compress tighter than standard equipment.

The forage’s maturity and species can have a significant effect on the density of hay bales as plants mature, their fiber content increases, making them less dense. Hay bales made from different ages and species of forage vary in weight.

Alfalfa hay is denser than bermuda hay and weighs more.

Picture of a tractor and hay baling machine.

The moisture content of the hay affects bale weight.

Forage is cut and then cured. To dry cut forage, haymakers fluff the cut grass; fluffing spins the cut forage and helps it evenly dry before baling. It’s essential to bale at the correct moisture level during the curing process to maintain nutritional value.

When it comes to hay bales, there are two styles: the small rectangular and the large round. The differences in size make a difference in how long hay bale retains heat. Therefore the moisture level of grass should be lower as the size of the bale increases.

The more you know about bale moisture levels, the better because of nutrient values, and storing hay too moist can cause fires. Freshly cut forage materials continue to respirate, producing a small amount of heat and can ignite a fire.

You may have heard that it’s acceptable for hay to have a moisture level of 22%. But this only applies to square bales: round should not exceed 18% in order to prevent mold and overheating.

Moisture content also affects the nutritional value of the hay.

Researchers baled alfalfa at three moisture levels, low (10%), medium (16%), and high (22%), to study the effects moisture has on nutrients. The hay was also baled in small and large sizes.

They found hay baled at the highest moisture levels, and the largest size got the hottest and resulted in the most loss of nutrient value, including dry matter and crude protein.

Science has proven that baling hay at too high of a moisture level is not good. Alfalfa hay in large bales at 22% moisture causes high temperatures, which results in loss of nutrient content and digestibility.

Picture of two horses eating from a round bale of hay.

Square hay bales vs. round bales for horses.

Most horse owners use square bales for their horses but not all. I have a friend who exclusively uses round bales unless he is traveling. He’s been doing this for years and has never had a problem.

Horses need hay to keep them healthy and strong, but they might get sick eating hay that you didn’t store correctly. It’s crucial to keep round hay bales dry because if they get damp, your horses might not be able to eat the hay or may get sick as a result.

But when stored correctly, the hay from a round bale is perfectly safe for horses so long as it doesn’t sit too long unprotected. Round bales take a long time for horses to eat unless you have a lot of them, and the longer a round bale is exposed to the elements, the greater the chance it molds and ruins.

Plus, moving around round bales requires equipment such as a tractor with a hayfork and a facility in your pasture to keep the hay dry while allowing your horses access to it. Overall, square bales are better than round bales for horses.

Why use square hay bales for horses.

I’ve always used square bales for my horses, and these are some of the reasons I find them advantageous:

  1. Square bales are more efficient in terms of space used for storage;
  2. Square bales are easier to handle without equipment;
  3. It’s easier to monitor your horses’ hay using square bales;
  4. Square bales are fresher;
  5. Square bales are less likely to mold than round bales;

Why use round hay bales for horses.

I don’t use round bales for my horses, but these are some of the reasons horse owners prefer using round bales to feed their horses’ hay:

  1. If you have the equipment, round bales are easy to move around a pasture;
  2. You get a better price per ton on round bales than square bales;
  3. Round bales are an easy way to free-feed hay to horses;

FAQ

How many square bales of hay equals a round bale?

The amount of square bales that equals a round bale depends on the size of each. There are approximately thirty two-string square bales of hay equals one large 5’x6′ diameter round bale.

How long does a square bale of hay last one horse?

Generally, a standard square bale lasts an average horse four days. A horse should eat between 1 to 2 percent of its body weight in hay daily. However, if you’re trying to put weight on a horse, you may want to feed more.
If a square bale of hay weighs 48 pounds and your horse weighs 1,000 pounds, your horse should eat the bale in four days. .012 (percent of body weight) X 1,000 pounds (horse weight)=12 pounds (daily hay ration).

Picture of a stack of square hay bales,