There are two primary ways hay is wasted when it’s stored long term. If the hay has been improperly baled, cured, or stacked, it will rot quickly. If animals have free access to large bales, they will trample and waste a large percentage of hay. To minimize waste, concentrate your efforts on your storage method and your feeding system.
Store Hay That’s Properly Cured
Start by storing only hay that has a low moisture content. You want hay that measures no more than 15 percent moisture. Any percentage above this reading will give you a corresponding percentage of eventual hay loss, according to one respected rule of thumb.
Large-scale growers normally have their hay batches’ information on file; small hay growers may not. Always ask for the moisture content when you purchase long-term hay for storage, and if the grower doesn’t know, insist that the hay be tested.
A hand-held hygrometer is one solution if you want to know the moisture content of your own or another farmer’s hay. To get the most accurate reading, you’ll need to test a variety of bales from the same field to compensate for windrows that were in the shade, bottomlands, and weedy areas.
Keep the Outer Layer Fresh
When it comes to feeding five-foot-diameter round bales, the outer six-inch layer of the bale makes up one-third of the weight of the entire round bale. The next six inches makes up one fourth of the bale, and so on.
If you allow livestock to trample the outer foot or so of a round bale of this size, you’re wasting half a bale of hay. Use hay rings to feed large numbers of animals, or otherwise portion hay so that animals are not fouling and wasting large amounts of their roughage.
Never leave stored hay bales out in the open or sitting directly on the ground. Losses can reach up to 40 percent when hay has no cover above or ventilation below. Always stack bales on pallets or wood planks that form a lattice.
Cover Hay for More Control
Barns are good for hay. Barns keep losses from rotting to less than 5 percent of the dry weight of properly handled hay. Because of the risk of wet hay spontaneously combusting, however, many farmers choose not to risk storing hay in their barns. Tarps are the second-best solution, and there are several ways to make the hay more secure under tarps.
Expect losses up 10 ten percent when hay is stored under tarps. You’ll minimize these losses by stacking square bales on dry days, buying pre-wrapped round bales, and checking the undersides of tarps for condensation after heavy dews and rains. Use bungee cords, trampoline springs, and other flexible tie-downs to secure tarps from wind gusts and downpours.
When you find excess moisture on the undersides of tarps or on the top layer of hay, try not to worry. Tarps are pulled back and “sunned” to dry them out at the same time the bales are allowed to dry on the outer layer. The tarp gives you control over additional curing of the hay after wet periods.
Make a Ridge Over Hay
A tarp won’t protect your massive stack of hay if the tarp collapses on top of the stack and allows water to pool. Pooled water is forced by gravity to find an easy way over the edge. The melting snow or storm runoff trickles down the bales, soaking hay and making the entire stack vulnerable to mold and spontaneous combustion.
Make a peak for your stack that’s at least one fourth as tall as the stack is wide. If you have a 12-foot square stack, then measure each end and place bales in the center top of the stack. The peak should run end to end and be at least three feet high before the stack is covered with the tarp. This gives an adequate “pitch” to the tarp cover—on both sides—to allow snow and rain to roll away.
Additionally, you can overlap the sides of a square bale stack after you create the peak. Have some of the very topmost side bales jutting out long ways over the side walls of the stack. Balance the bales with another bale set on top of each one. The overlapping bales help to offset the top edge of the tarp so water falls away from the wall of hay.
Check your stack of hay periodically throughout the season. Stay alert for high temperatures, burning odors, moldy smells, and high amounts of dust in hay. If you find a bad bale or two in the stack, remove that hay promptly so the entire pile isn’t ruined.
Whether your raise cattle or elephants, Billboard Tarps offers you hay covers in a full range of sizes that are UV-protected, mildew-resistant, and fitted with three-inch-wide pipe sleeves to securely anchor the tarps over your hay. Contact us today to learn more about our farmer-friendly tarp selection.