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Make most of stored hay

Managing how you store and use hay in your operation can put money in your wallet.

December 12, 2022

3 Min Read
round hay bales in pasture at sunset
MAXIMIZE HAY: Stored hay is a valuable asset for any livestock producer. Make the most of it by working on ways to limit losses and cut costs by eliminating waste.Courtesy of MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources

Quality hay in storage is like a precious gem. It’s valuable and worthy of your safest storage, says Charles Ellis, University of Missouri Extension field specialist in agricultural engineering. And while haying season is over, considering storage plans for next season can add value to this important feed source for the future.

Proper storage is one way producers can reduce hay waste. There are two sides to that equation. The first are ways to manage hay to avoid losses, then tactics at feeding time to preserve the quality product you’ve created.

Ellis offers a few steps to consider when deciding what hay to store:

Know your hay’s nutritional value. Sample at least 10 bales of hay for each field and choose the best hay for your top-shelf storage. The cost to sample — about $24.95 per composite sample — will save money in the long run and result in better quality hay.

Know your herd’s nutritional needs. Feed your best hay based on reproductive needs. High moisture and temperatures can speed spoilage. Waste is heaviest at the top and bottom of the bale. The top absorbs moisture from rain and snowmelt while the bottom wicks moisture from the ground. Early cuttings stand in the elements for a longer time and face the most risk of loss.

Ellis offers five tips to reduce outdoor storage losses:

1. Make a dense bale. Dense bales shed more precipitation, sag less and hold their shape better.

2. Use net wraps. Netting is quicker to install than twine, which means less labor and fuel. And net wraps reduce sag, helping bales keep their shape.

3. Choose a good location. Reduce ground contact and to minimize bottom spoilage, store in a well-drained area with a 4- to 6-inch rock base — or place bales on pallets, polls or railroad ties.

4. Position properly. Store end-to-end, in rows, facing northwest to southeast whenever possible. Space adjacent lines at least 10 feet apart.

5. Avoid stacking uncovered bales outside. Stacking bales increases losses. Place bales inside in a pyramid stack or on end to maximize space.

In a study of a north-central Nebraska ranch, on average 17% of hay is wasted in uncovered twine and net bales after one year. Tarped, twined bales lose 6%, and tarped net bales lose 5%. Ellis says this is a loss of $17.51 per ton of hay.

A University of Tennessee study showed a 37% loss on uncovered bales stored on the ground. Netted bales stored on the ground lost 19%. Note covered bales stored on tires lost just 8%, while those stored in buildings lost 6%.

Bale diameter plays a big role too, Ellis says. The smaller the bale, the more dry matter is lost in the outer layers since more of the bale is exposed to the elements. In an Oklahoma State University study, losses ranged from 8% to 56%, depending on the size of the bales.

The outer 6 inches of a standard 5-by-5 bale represent 36% of the bale, or $37.08 per ton. Protecting this outer layer is key to reducing loss, Ellis says.

Source: University of Missouri Extension

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