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Hay season

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Considerations for baling and storing hay discussed

Management decisions, equipment maintenance and proper storage can have a big impact on waste and efficiency when baling hay, according to Andy McCorkill, livestock specialist at the University of Missouri. 

Bale size

McCorkill says producers should tailor bale size to their facilities and animals. However, he also points out overall, bigger bales are more efficient.

“With larger diameter bales, producers will have less loss,” he states. “With smaller bales, producers will have basically two times the surface area exposed for the same amount of hay.” 

Texas A&M Extension Beef Specialist Jason Banta says it is also important to utilize a bale size that equipment can handle. 

“Some producers just don’t have a large enough tractor to handle some of the bigger bales comfortably,” Banta says. “But if increasing the size of bales is possible, I encourage producers to go from five feet in diameter to six feet.” 

“If we can increase the diameter on those bales, for bales that’ll be stored outside, we’ll see less storage loss,” he adds. 

Bale density

Iowa State University Extension Agriculture Engineer Brian Dougherty says efficiency for bigger bales comes from less dry matter loss and less twine or net wrap used. 

He explains the key factors of bale density are the baler settings and the forage itself. 

“Denser bales have a variety of benefits,” Dougherty states. “I recommend making the densest bales a baler can achieve without exceeding what can be handled safely.” 

“The more dense a bale is, the better it will repel water,” Dougherty adds. “It’s not going to pick up as much moisture from the ground and it’s going to avoid more spoilage.” 

For dry bales, Dougherty says nine to 13 pounds of dry matter per cubic foot is a good target.

“Denser bales hold their shape better, especially if they are net wrapped,” he says. “Producers will end up with higher feed quality with net-wrapped bales.” 

McCorkill says producers can adjust windrows as forage volume varies during the year and with different forage types. 

“The quicker a producer can get the forage into the baler, the tighter the bale will be,” he says.

Hay storage

McCorkill notes there are several different ways producers can store their hay, even if they can’t get it all under a roof. 

“In a perfect world, everybody would have a nice, long hay barn to store a year’s worth of hay,” he says. “But this isn’t always the case.” 

“Producers should consider rainfall when storing hay outside,” he adds. “A gravel base can cut down on moisture loss and make it easier to get to our hay bales.” 

Banta says, “The higher the rainfall is, obviously the more concerns we’re going to have with storage losses outside.” 

McCorkill notes it is not a good idea to store hay under trees, because water leaks through the leaves, which slows down the drying process. He also points out in this situation, producers aren’t utilizing the sun and wind to help dry out their hay. 

“When deciding where to store bales outdoors, it can be helpful to consult the USDA Web Soil Survey so producers can identify less productive soils on which to store their bales, and so they can store on soils that drain water better,” Banta suggests. 

“Another good practice is to keep a little more space between rows of hay bales that are stored outdoors,” Banta continues. “A good rule of thumb is to put rows three feet apart.” 

Hay testing

According to Banta, this spacing also makes it easier to get hay cores for testing. 

“Hay testing is a good idea because even hay put up on the same farm will vary in nutrition from cutting to cutting and from field to field,” he says. 

He explains the ideal time for hay testing is in the fall or about four to six weeks before producers begin feeding their hay.

“A hay test is also a good idea before buying hay,” Banta states. “It’s pretty easy to justify testing when we look at it relative to feed cost.”

McCorkill says he sees value in hay testing as well.

“A producer should know what they are buying,” he says. “Even if they’re harvesting their own hay, it’s good to have a quantitative number of what they have. It helps us do a better job of building feed rations for our cattle.” 

Dougherty also recommends producers buy hay by the ton and not by the bale.

Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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