Most livestock producers will make hay during the summer to feed during winter. Hay is the most common winter feed option, because it is less risky than the other available options. While it does require less planning, it can also be the most expensive method of preservation.
The best way to store hay is inside out of the weather. However, since this is not always possible, it is important to do the best job of storing it to prevent hay losses. Uncovered hay bales stored outside on the ground can result in high hay dry matter (DM) losses that could range from 5-20%. In most cases, it is recommended to elevate bales using gravel which can reduce DM losses to 3-15%. The best option for storage is covering hay bales with tarps, which will help to prevent losses on hay stored outside.
Rectangular Bale Storage
Rectangular bales are usually protected by being stored inside, especially in wet regions with high rainfall and snowfall potential. Common storage structures include pole barns with no walls or sheds enclosed on one to three sides. Good ventilation is needed during the first 1 to 3 weeks after baling to eliminate moisture quickly as it exits the stack. In low rainfall regions, rectangular bales may be stacked outside but these stacks should be covered to help shed water.
Round Bale Storage
Round bale storage losses could range from 5-40% DM depending on climate and on the degree of protection from weathering. Round bales are usually stored outside in contact with the ground and unprotected from the weather. Outside storage losses are small in dry regions or in areas where winter precipitation is mainly snow. Weathering will decrease DM digestibility and usually increases fiber levels. Interestingly, hay that lies beneath weathered material on outside stored bales has similar forage quality to hay stored in the shed.
In general, moisture will tend to penetrate a loosely-packed bale causing significant loss. A good method to check for moisture on newly formed bales is to press on the outer layer with the palm of the hand. If your palm goes in more than about half-inch, significant losses should be expected.
Some considerations for feeding hay are:
Cattle can waste up to 50% of hay fed. Since hay stored outside usually has more spoilage during storage and lower palatability than hay stored inside, producers should feed that hay first.
No matter what type of storage and feeding methods are used, some loss is always possible. However by following recommended storage methods, and through careful handling, losses can be minimized saving livestock producers’ time and money.
Select an open area away from trees to hasten drying following wet periods
Arrange bales in a single layer with 3 to 4 ft of space between rows. This will improve air circulation around the bales.
Bales should not be stacked if they are not covered, because water shed from upper layers will penetrate directly into lower layers, causing severe damage.
Select an elevated area so water can drain away from the bales.