13 Jul How Much A Bale Of Hay Costs For Horses: Budget Guide
Horse Hay Price Guide
If you are new to horses, one of the most important aspects of equine care is making sure your horse gets enough to eat. Most horses will get the majority of their nutrients through grass or hay. Horses can eat anywhere from 10 – 20 lbs of hay a day! Before getting a horse, you will need to know how much you can expect to spend on this precious resource.
How much does a bale of horse hay cost? The cost of hay will vary depending on numerous factors, including the growing seasons, the climate, and the type of hay being purchased. Depending on these factors, a square bale of hay can cost you between $7 – $20 in the United States. A single round bale can cost anywhere from $35 – $100.
Where I live on the East Coast, plenty of grass and steady rainfall tends to produce at least three cuttings of hay per year. Hay is on the cheaper side, around $7 per square bale during the Summer. Unfortunately, this is not the case in other dryer parts of the country. Keep reading to get a hay cost overview for your region!
How Much Does Hay Cost?
Here are a few examples of approximately how much you can currently expect to pay for a square bale of hay:
- California – $17-$20 for grass hay, $15-$20 for alfalfa
- Georgia – $8-$12 for grass hay, $12-$18 for alfalfa
- Iowa – $7-$8 for grass hay, $8-$9 for alfalfa
- Montana – $14-$15 for grass hay, $12-$13 for alfalfa
- Texas – $11-$12 for grass hay, $15-$16 for alfalfa
These costs are averages for the regions. For example, Texas is a large state, and the supply and demand, and therefore the cost of hay in Houston, is going to be different than the supply and demand in Amarillo. The same can be said for California; the cost of hay in the farmland of California will be cheaper than the cost of hay in the mountains of California.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that these averages are approximate prices for hay today. I am currently paying almost double for hay compared to prices just three years ago.
How Long Will a Bale Of Hay Last?
How long a bale of hay will last will depend on the size of the bale. Hay comes in many different sizes, and the prices listed above are based on small square bales.
- Small square – also called a 2-string bale because it is secured using two strands of twine; this is one of the smallest bale sizes you can find. It will typically weigh between 60 and 70 pounds.
- Large square – also called a 3-string bale, will weigh between 100 and 120 pounds.
- Round – a standard round bale will be about 4 feet wide by 5 feet tall. Larger rounds can be up to six feet wide by eight feet tall. These larger ones will weigh between 900 and 1500 pounds.
- Bagged – you can also find hay bagged – especially in larger retail chains like Tractor Supply. These will be more expensive than the bales you can purchase at a local feed store. Bagged hay is usually chopped, making it easier for older horses to eat.
Horses eat 1 – 2% of their body weight in roughage. This means that a 1,200-pound horse, if sustained on hay alone, will eat anywhere from 12 – 25 pounds per day. A small hay bale will last a 1,200-pound horse 2-3 days. A large bale may last up to 5 days, and a 700-pound round bale may last almost a month.
If you are purchasing 75-pound bales (this would be a “small square bale” that is on the larger side), you would expect to purchase approximately 120 bales to feed a 1,200-pound horse for the year. If you don’t have your calculator handy, 120 small bales at $15 each would be $1,800 per year.
Buying Smart: Saving Money On Hay
Hay is a big expense, but here are a few tips that you can use to save some money:
Buy Local To Save On Hay
This can make a huge difference. Purchasing hay locally will be significantly less costly than purchasing hay that has been trucked into your feed store. Speaking of feed stores, try purchasing directly from a local grower to save even more money. Many growers will offer their hay for lower prices, especially if you forego delivery and pick it up yourself.
I pay, on average, $7 a square bale from a local supplier compared to $11 when I need to purchase hay from our feed store.
Buy Seasonally To Save On Hay
Very few climates can accommodate a year-round growing season. In fact, most regions have relatively short growing seasons, with growers getting an average of three cuttings or batches of hay per year. If you have to purchase hay outside of the growing season, it will cost a lot more due to the supply being more limited.
The solution is to buy as much hay as possible during the growing season, so long as you have the space and budgetary requirements. This will, of course, be hard on your wallet in the Summer months, but it will pay for itself and beyond when you are feeding Summer-rate hay during the Winter.
Buy In Bulk To Save On Hay
I already mentioned purchasing during the growing season to save money. But there is another advantage to buying your yearly requirement of hay during the growing season: you can pay a bulk rate. Growers often charge a lower per-bale rate when purchasing in bulk as opposed to purchasing individual bales. When you call for a quote, you can ask for the price per “stack” or “bundle.”
Buy 1st Cut To Save On Hay
Oftentimes, the 1st cut of the season will cost less than the 2nd cut. Many horse keepers prefer the 2nd cut because it is richer, greener, and softer. This may cause the 2nd cut to appear more nutrient-dense, but the 1st cut also has advantages – it is often higher in seed heads, and many horses prefer the texture. Buying the majority of your hay as 1st cut may save you a dollar or more per bale.
To learn more budgeting tips for horse owners, visit my article 16 Tips for Owning a Horse on a Budget.
Preserving Your Hay (And Therefore Your Investment)
It is important to be wise with the hay that you purchase. When you waste hay, you are wasting money, so storing and feeding your hay efficiently can save you a lot of money over the course of a year. You will want to store your hay in a dry place that has plenty of ventilation. Even properly dried hay is susceptible to mold once introduced into a damp environment, and moldy hay must be disposed of as it can cause serious problems to a horse’s delicate respiratory tract.
You will also want to consider using a hay rack or net. It has been shown that horses that eat directly off the ground can experience up to 30% wasted hay. They kick it around, lay on it, and eliminate on it. Horses will not eat soiled or dirty hay, so that hay is wasted. When I feed hay on the ground, I see a significant amount of waste – my horse would be calling out for his dinner, standing impatiently at the gate, while a pile of that morning’s hay would accumulate on the ground. I might as well have thrown dollar bills on the ground.
What Is The Difference Between Grass Hay & Alfalfa?
You may have noticed that the prices above are broken down by grass hay and alfalfa. What you feed will depend on your horse, what is available in your region, and what your vet recommends. Alfalfa is a legume and is much higher in protein when compared to grass hay. Alfalfa is often a great option for growing horses, pregnant and lactating mares, and horses who need to put on some weight.
The term “grass hay” refers to any hay that is derived from non-legume grasses. This includes orchard grass, Bermuda, Timothy grass, Brome, and Fescue. The nutrition content in these grasses will vary slightly, with some higher in protein and fiber than others.
While it would be ideal to research each type of grass hay and choose the right one for your specific horse, the reality is your options will likely depend on where you live. For example, orchard grass is abundant in California, while Bermuda grass may be all you can find in your local area of Texas.
While feeding your horse is a significant investment, if you are purchase-savvy and you feed and store efficiently, you should be able to save hundreds of dollars per year on your horse’s most beloved resource…his dinner.
An important aspect of purchasing hay for your horses is ensuring it’s horse-quality and there’s no mold. To learn how to spot bad hay, visit my article How to Know if Your Hay is Bad: Essential Horse Hay Guide.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.