Haying season is well underway and yields are shaping up better than last year thanks to the much needed moisture. For many alfalfa and grass hay harvesters, the main cutting has been cut and bound with binding materials such as net wrap or twine. No matter what materials you choose to bind forage with, the method of storage throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall and winter is important to maintain forage quality, as well as minimize waste and simultaneously cost of production.
Factors Affecting Outside Storage Losses
- Bale Density: With dry hay (10-20%), the denser the bale, the lower the amount of spoilage that occurs. The density of round bales should be a minimum of 10 lbs of hay per cubic foot.
- Field operations: Uniform swaths, sized to match the recommendations of the baler being used help produce uniform and dense hay bales.
- Weather conditions: For hay stored outside, increased precipitation results in greater chances of storage losses. Stacking and storage methods noted below can help reduce outside storage loss.
Bales should be removed from harvest areas as soon as possible in order to allow for uniform regrowth and potential additional cuttings depending on the forage type. Round bales that are stacked alongside harvest areas should be orientated flat end to flat end, in north and south rows. Stacking east and west will cause deterioration on the north-facing surfaces if not used before next summer. Stacks should be placed in well drained, non-shaded areas to prevent spoilage. In addition, 3 feet between rows is recommended to provide adequate air flow, sun exposure for drying and reduce excess moisture accumulation. If removing hay from the field and stacking in a hay yard, make sure bales are cool and dry to eliminate any potential heating and fire danger. Reduce hay fire danger with these tips from Karla Hernandez, SDSU Extension Forages Field Specialist.
Different types of hay storage options are available including stacking outside with no cover, outside on protected ground (tires, pallets, rock), outside covered with tarp, plastic wrap, or inside a barn. As more intense storage is implemented, exposure and storage losses decrease, while cost of storage increases.
Storage costs may seem expensive at first, but if you put the pencil to the paper, the price of wasted hay isn’t cheap. Depending on how much has is harvested and used each year, it may be cost effective to improve hay storage methods. In general advantages to storing hay outside, is unlimited space, height and number of bales in a stack. Yet, advantages of placing hay in a barn include maintaining better forage quality, decreased moisture and less spoilage. However, space inside barns are limited and careful stacking is needed to preserve structural integrity of the barn.
What Can Be Done Today
Taking into account current hay prices, last year’s decreased forage production and future forage needs, storage options may need to be re-evaluated sooner than later. While building a barn may not be realistic this summer, take note of current stacking methods, and see if changes can be made this year to decrease waste going into the rest of the summer and fall. In addition, document current hay inventory (accounting for some waste) and compare this to the winter hay needs of the cowherd. If additional forage needs to be sourced, be sure to purchase quality hay confirmed with a nutrient analysis. Lastly, begin tracking hay waste each year and compare the cost of wasted hay to the cost of improving hay storage on your farm long term.
For information and details on hay storage, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service has the publication titled Round Bale Hay Storage.