I had a customer reach out to me because he was low on hay. When he came out to load hay, he was telling me about an old bag of cubes he had been trying to feed off but the horse showed little interest. I think I know why.
Inspecting the quality of hay is difficult when it's in small, compacted cubes. When breaking open a bale of hay, inspecting the Alfalfa stems and leaves, as well as detecting mold or weeds, is straightforward. You can't do something like that with hay cubes and that's how some farmers can get away with making cubes from rained on or low quality hay and still charge a hefty price for them. I've even heard that some manufacturers add green dye to the cubes in order to make them appear better than they are.
For horses that don't have the luxury of a large grazing pasture, eating hay in a corral is the highlight of the day. Horses consume cubes much faster, which can lead to stomach problems or make them bored with all the extra time they have.
However, cubes aren't all bad. Some bags come with nutritional information to ensure quality, and when soaked in water, cubes are much easier to consume. Because of how they’re processed and stored, cubes typically have less dust and lower propensity to mold. Transporting cubes is much easier than loading flakes of hay as well.
As much as 20% of conventional baled hay may be wasted when fed1, while cubes have little waste. That’s why feed bins are a great investment to make sure you aren’t wasting money.
So if you do end up paying extra for cubes, make sure they have tags to prove their quality and make sure to soak them in water before feeding. Although they can be convenient, baled hay is more cost effective and easier to detect quality.
1-Patrick, Charlie. “Forage Cubes vs Baled Hay.” ADM Animal Nutrition, ADM Animal Nutrition, published date unknown, Web. http://www.admani.com/horse/Equine%20Library/Horse%20Forage%20Cubes%20vs%20Baled%20hay.htm