Proper techniques recommended to producers storing hay to minimize loss
“Hay is an expensive crop to harvest and storage losses can be significant,” states Ohio State University Extension Beef Coordinator John Grimes.
By following key management principles for hay storage, losses can be minimized.
“Once a field is baled, bales are generally moved from the field to a storage area. This should be done relatively quickly to avoid stand loss from bales smothering the existing forage,” explains Grimes.
Using proper equipment to move the bales safely and efficiently is also recommended.
“Hay to soil contact is typically the primary source of loss associate with storing hay outdoors,” Grimes warns.
Hay that is stored on the ground should be in a well-drained and open area that receives maximum sunlight.
“Storing bales under a tree canopy is not a good management decision,” he comments.
Minimal protection is provided in rainy conditions, and those areas are slow to dry out when the sunshine returns.
“Outdoor storage locations on a slope can help drain excess water away from the bales,” he notes.
Losses are also minimized when adequate space is left between bales.
“When aligning bales for storage, they should be placed so the sides do not touch,” Grimes continues. “An exception to this would be if the bales are stacked in a pyramid fashion, for covering under a roof, tarp or other material.”
Pyramid stacks are one effective way to store hay, under a tarp or other type of protection.
“Do not stack bales in this formation unless the bales can be covered,” Grimes says.
Keeping hay covered minimizes losses. A study done by the University of Kentucky indicated that hay stacked outside on the ground has 25 to 35 percent loss, while hay stored in a conventional shed only had four to seven percent loss.
“Using a typical hay storage method with bales placed directly on the sod and rows closely aligned together, losses can approach 35 percent with twine-wrapped hay. But, net-wrap in the same situation can reduce losses up to 10 percent,” Grimes explains.
Left directly on the ground, moisture from the soil can be drawn up into the bales. Using tarps or plastic wrap can help to reduce this kind of damage.
“If producers do not have some kind of protected storage facility available, at a minimum they should place bales on a layer of rock to eliminate soil contact,” he suggests.
Using a layer of geotextile cloth covered with rock is one example of an effective pad design.
“Bales butted together can help protect the ends of the bales,” he adds. “The flat ends of the bales should be firmly butted against one another, as if they were one, continuous bale,” he comments.
Plastic wrap can also be used to protect baled hay and an inline wrapper can be used to create one continuous, long tube.
“The advantage of this process over individually-wrapped bales is the reduction in total use of plastic,” states Grimes.
Keeping hay wrapped, covered or inside will help minimize loss during storage.
“Generally, the more protection we can provide, the fewer losses we will experience,” he states.
Hay production is important for ruminant ranchers such as beef, dairy, goat, horse and lamb producers.
Grimes states, “Much like corn or soybeans, hay is very valuable and should be treated as such.”
Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at email@example.com.