Save Money – Store Your Hay Correctly


   This year has been hard for many producers to harvest high quality hay. The hay may have been cut at the optimum time, but rain prevented baling or rain prevented cutting the hay. A couple of cattlemen told me that it rained so much on their cut hay that it was almost time to harvest the second cutting.
   I recently was traveling around southern Illinois and noticed that many round bales of hay were being stored inappropriately. The method of storage can impact hay digestibility and palatability and thus impact cattle performance and herd efficiency. Also as the quality of that hay decreases there is a corresponding increase in stored hay costs.  Those increased stored hay costs could eventually pay for tarps or even a barn to store the hay!  For example, a 1000 pound outside, uncovered bale of hay will lose approximately 30 percent (300 lbs). If the bale is worth $50 then the producer will lose $15 per bale.  If 100 bales are harvested and stored each year outside and uncovered, then at least $1500 could be added to the cost of that hay. Even more hay can be lost, increasing your costs, depending on how it was stacked. Therefore, it is important to minimize hay loss.
   Economically it is best for the cows to harvest the stockpiled forage to minimize hay costs.  Feed cost is the largest variable expense in cow/calf operations and storing hay can greatly impact these costs. Studies have shown that the more hay is fed, the greater likelihood the farm will lose money. Due to convenience and other factors the vast majority of hay fed to cattle in the Midwest is in the form of large round bales. In order to decrease hay costs and maximize profitability, it is important to minimize hay loss.
   One of the most important factors relating to the extent and dollar value of outside storage losses is bale density. In general, the denser or more tightly hay is baled, the lower the amount of spoilage, assuming hay moisture at baling is 18 to 20 percent or lower. The density of round bales (at least in the outer few inches) should be a minimum of 10 pounds of hay/cubic foot. Increasing bale density will decrease spoilage by reducing moisture penetration and reduces the rate at which moisture and heat can escape. Keep in mind that as density increases it becomes even more important to ensure the hay is baled at a safe moisture level.
   Bale wrapping has some influence on storage losses of large round bales stored outside as well. Studies have shown that as the spacing between the twine increases weathering losses increase. On the other hand, wrapping bales with more twine will increase baling costs due to using more twine and time required for wrapping each bale. Most studies have shown net wrap to be slightly better than twine in preventing storage losses.
   Much of the yield loss that occurs during outside storage takes place on the bottom of the bale where moisture levels remain highest and air movement is the lowest. Outside storage losses can be reduced by as much as 38 percent by selecting a well-drained site and using poles, pallets, tires, crushed rock (1 to 3 inches in diameter should be piled 4 to 8 inches deep), or other materials to break the contact with the wet soil and to provide some air space between the bottom of the bale and the soil surface.
   Additional outside hay storage recommendations are:
   1) Move your round bales to your storage location soon as possible after baling. Thatch formation is what helps keep moisture out. Once thatch is formed, moving the bale disrupts the thatch, requiring its reformation to keep out moisture. More good hay is required to replace it.
   2) Store in open, sunny areas near feeding areas.
   3) Tightly butt the bales end to end. End to end bales will thatch as a single roll and reduce the loss on the ends.
   4) Orient rows north and south. The north-south orientation allows maximum drying.
   5) Orient rows down slope (not across the slope).
   6) Don’t store round rolls under trees which prevents drying.
   7) Cover with a tarp. There are several on-line companies that offer tarps specifically designated for agricultural use, but you may also want to consider alternatives such as used bill board signs.
   The objective of any hay feeding program is to provide adequate quantities of high quality hay to meet the nutritional needs of the livestock. However, feeding hay is more expensive than allowing the cattle to graze forages. Therefore it is economically important when storing hay to minimize loss which will help to maximize quality and ultimately help decrease the cost of feed. ∆
   DR. TERESA L. STECKLER: Extension Specialist, Animal Systems/Beef, University of Illinois
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