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Put that hay up right this winter

Jordan Anderson 11/20/2013 @ 4:35pm Digital Content Editor for Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture.com

With the high demand (and even higher prices) of hay in the past few years, producers should do everything possible to protect their investment. Something to focus on this time of the year is the storage method of hay bales, particularly large round bales that are more susceptible to dry matter (DM) loss than small square bales.

Doo-Hong Min, Kansas State Research and Extension crops and soils specialist, points out that much of the dry matter loss in outdoor storage situations can be pinned on microbial respiration.

The best way to store hay bales is indoors and out of the wet weather conditions of winter, but that isn’t always a viable option. 

Most people will store their bales outside, which can account for 5% to 40% DM loss depending on climate and the degree of protection from weather, according to Karla Hernandez, South Dakota State University Extension forage field specialist. 

Take a look at ways to minimize loss when storing large round bales outside:

  • Maintain good bale density. One of the most important preventive measures to take is tightening the outer layer of the bale. Moisture tends to penetrate loosely-packed hay allowing microbes to use oxygen and the hay’s nutrients to break down the bale, causing significant losses. Test the density by pressing your palm against the bale. If your hand can depress the surface more than .5 inch, the bale could experience significant DM loss when left unprotected outside.
  • Cover it up. Allowing round bales to weather can reduce digestibility of the hay. Plastic wrap, tarps, or canvases can all be used to prevent extreme weathering.
  • Check out your storage site. Selecting a proper storage site with good airflow and drainage is a low-cost way to reduce DM loss. The storage site should not be shaded (away from trees) and should have good air circulation to enhance drying conditions after precipitation.
  • Elevate the bales up off the ground. Storing bales on the ground can account for up to half of DM loss (5% to 20%). Use racks, fence posts, old pallets, railroad ties, used tires, or a 4- to 6-inch layer of rock to elevate hay. 
  • Position rows of bales to promote good drying. Noticing a trend? Keeping hay dry is a key ingredient to saving your investment! It is recommended to stack round bales end-to-end, keeping 3 or 4 feet between each row (for air circulation, of course). Orient the rows in a north-south direction. Bales should not be stacked if they are not covered.

Be sure to take climatic and precipitation conditions into account when selecting the best storage option for your operation. An area that does not receive much precipitation will not gain much from putting up a facility to store bales indoors. In a region where rain and snow are prevalent, an indoor storage facility may very well pay for itself.

Key source: Steve Watson, K-State

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