Proper storage of hay bales will reduce losses caused by excess moisture. Researchers at the University of Georgia estimate that at least one third of the cost of harvesting and producing hay is lost to spoilage from excessive moisture. Much of the extra moisture in a hay bale collects at the bottom and leeches deep into the bale. In addition to covering hay---by storing it in a structure or covering it with a tarp---keeping hay elevated on pallets or tires and avoiding direct contact with the ground will save you additional losses.
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Things you need
- Good plastic covering or tarp
- Permanent hay storage structure
Invest in good plastic coverings or tarps. The Oklahoma State University Extension recommends coverings made from reinforced plastic to reduce the number of rips and tears. Reinforced plastic, when properly handled, can last up to three years. Keep in mind that stacking round bales in a pyramid-type structure effectively reduces the square footage you will require. The Virginia Cooperative Extension estimates that the use of a good plastic covering reduces storage losses by up to one half.
Figure in an additional 4 feet of coverage for bales stored in a pyramid shape of 4-3-2-1, 3-2-1 or 2-2-1 (4 bales on the base, 3 on top of that, 2 on top of that and 1 bale on the top).
Weight the cover along the edges and ends in a manner that allows for some movement. If you tie down the covering too tightly, you are bound to end up with rips and tears.
Store your hay bales indoors if you are intending to store them for more than a season, as the Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends. This will reduce storage losses by up to two thirds. Tarps are good protection for bales stored close to where they will be fed.
Tips and warnings
- Store bales off of the ground on old telephone poles, old tires, wooden pallets or even gravel. If you use gravel, be aware that pieces of it will stick to the hay and could cause a problem when the hay is put through processing equipment. Pallets or tires will eliminate this risk.
- Plastic covers, while arguably the most cost-efficient, can also trap moisture. Storage of hay with moisture content of higher than 20 per cent will develop mould if stored under a plastic covering.
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