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Tips for outside hay storage provided

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As producers are in the thick of putting up hay, many questions arise regarding the best practices for wrapping and storing harvested forage both indoors or outside and what impact storage might have on nutrient loss. 

In a recent episode of Kansas State University’s (KSU) Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) Cattle Chat podcast, KSU Veterinarians Dr. Bob Larson and Brad White, along with Agricultural Economist Dustin Pendell and Cow/Calf Extension Specialist Dr. Bob Weaber, debate the value of net wrap versus baling twine and provide tips for outdoor hay storage.

Baling options

“I like net wrap because of how much water it helps bales shed,” says Weaber. “It does a great job of keeping the bale together and makes transport easier. Bale integrity is really important.”

Weaber explains cutting net wrapping off bales in the winter is challenging, especially if the wrap is frozen. However, the storage ease and waste prevention often offsets the inconvenience, he says.

The BCI experts also share net wrap often is faster in terms of speed and efficiency when baling. During the podcast, they share a study from Wisconsin, which published results stating producers can bale up to 32 percent more bales with net wrap than with twine in the same amount of time. The BCI team says this is something to keep in mind when considering labor and fuel expenses. 

“A really tight net wrap will always look the best but also has additional costs,” Weaber adds. 

Net wrap is approximately an extra dollar per bale, according to the BCI team.  

“There are some cost benefits that make twine a better option,” the team shares. “If we do the twine wrap well enough, we get some of the same benefits of the net wrap, with a little less of the cost.”

“Twine is also a less expensive option if the hay will be stored inside,” the BCI experts say. 

Inside vs. outdoor storage

Where producers decide to store their hay or what they decide to wrap their hay with varies as far as where they are in the country and how much precipitation they receive, or what kind of weather conditions the area should anticipate, according to the BCI team. 

 “If we are storing our hay inside, it does not matter how well the bales shed rain,” the experts share. “We aren’t worried about the bales getting wet inside, so net wrap is not necessary.”

The same Wisconsin study the team mentioned earlier also found total dry matter loss while hay was stored outside using twine to be 11.3 percent compared to a 7.3 percent loss of net-wrapped hay. 

“How tight the bale is might be the most important consideration when looking at storage and nutrient losses,” says the BCI team. “The type of hay also is a large factor.” 

“Alfalfa has a lot of nutrients to lose and this might be where a net wrap might shine,” says the team. “Whereas with a lower-quality prairie hay, there is less nutrients to lose to begin with.”       

In determining where to store hay, the BCI team explains there are considerations producers should look at including what the storage facility looks like and the ability to get water to drain away from hay bales. 

Other considerations include how many times a producer might have to move hay if they decide to store it inside. Storing the hay inside might decrease loss, but wintering cows on the same pasture the hay was harvested from would add expenses in moving the hay back and forth.  

The team also discussed standing dormant forage, or unharvested forage, left in the field for winter grazing. 

“The bale that we never make we have no loss on,” jokes Weaber. “Standing dormant forage might be one way to decrease bale storage and losses.”

 “Cows are amazingly efficient at harvesting,” states the team. However, they add it takes a solid and well-planned management system to go without any stored forage. 

Outside bale storage tips

While wrapping and storage differs between producers, the BCI team provided their top five tips for outdoor bale storage. 

They encourage producers to produce or find appropriate sized bales with appropriate wrapping, optimize the number of bales that are required, minimize handling and the number of times bales are moved, align bales to get even sun exposure and maintain adequate water drainage to keep bales dry. 

Averi Hales is the editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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