According to a beef cattle expert from Ohio State University, farmers who make sure to store their hay properly will suffer fewer losses and retain more value. John Grimes, of the OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, encourages producers to take special care to protect their investment in their hay crop through smart storage techniques.
“Hay is an expensive crop to harvest, and storage losses can be significant,” he said. “Much like corn and soybeans, hay is a valuable crop and should be treated as such.” The OSU Extension 2013 enterprise budget determined that, at 3 tons per acre, grass hay costs $112.77 per ton to produce. Alfalfa, at 4 tons per acre, costs $133.02 per ton, explained Grimes. “Hay is an asset, and with the current hay prices, you can’t afford to have losses. If you are losing hay at 10 to 20 percent, those are real dollars that you are losing.”
In Ohio, farmers harvested approximately 1.12 million acres of hay in 2011, according to Grimes. “At an average of about 2.5 tons per acre, this yielded a total production of 2.7 million tons of hay in 2011 used to support several types of ruminant animals, including beef, dairy, goats, horses and lambs,” he stated.
To avoid hay storage losses, Grimes offers the following information:
The primary source of losses for hay that is stored outdoors is hay-to-soil contact.
If you must place hay bales on the ground, be sure to choose a well-drained area.
When possible, store hay in an open area with the most amount of sunlight possible.
Place hay bales in such a way that their sides do not touch, when lining them up for storage, unless stacking them in a pyramid shape under a tarp or a roof.
The hay bales’ flat ends should be firmly butted up against each other, to protect the ends by making it as if it were one long, unbroken bale.
Covering hay with a tarp or under a roof helps keep losses to a minimum. Losses can increase when hay is moved outside, particularly if the hay is placed directly on the ground.
“For example, hay loss is generally 4 to 7 percent when stored in a conventional shed, while hay stacked outside on the ground can see losses of 25 to 35 percent, according to a study by the University of Kentucky,” Grimes elaborated. “In general, the more protection you can provide, the less hay loss you will experience.” A tree canopy does not provide adequate protection for hay bales, as any hay soaked by rain will be very slow to dry.
The best possible storage for hay consists of a rock foundation within a structure covered by a roof, recommended Grimes. “If you don’t have a protected storage, place hay on a layer of geotextile fabric cloth covered with rock to avoid bale-to-soil contact. Another option is to stack in a pyramid covered with a tarp or other protective covering for outside.”
When producers are deciding on a storage area for their hay bales, they should keep in mind their need to access the bales during the upcoming seasons, in order to feed their livestock.
“When you get into the baling season, you have to start to think about how you’re going to store the hay to make sure you have adequate feed for your livestock next winter,” Grimes described. “You may have plenty of feed now, but you may have a shortfall around the corner, and if you run short on hay, you will have to make up for it another way.”