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3 Tips For Handling And Storing Wet Hay

It’s been an interesting summer thus far here in eastern South Dakota. In early June, we were praying for rain, worried about what August would bring as our summer forages were already turning brown. By the end of June, we’d had flash-flooding across the state, hail storms that pummeled corn fields, tornados that decimated farm buildings and lightning strikes that killed calves. Although our locale escaped the worst of it, we are still dealing with an abundance of moisture, which has made putting up high-quality hay a challenge.

In his most recent Hay & Forage Minute newsletter, Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist, recently wrote about how to handle rained-on hay and how best to store it from now until winter. Here are three tips for handling and storing wet hay that I picked up from his piece:

1. To bale or not to bale. That is the question.

“Sometimes, the big problem with rained-on hay is the long-term damage to the regrowing plants,” says Anderson. “Driving over the field repeatedly — trying to turn hay to hasten its drying — will injure regrowth and can cause soil compaction, especially if the ground is wet and soft.”

Anderson recommends moving the hay any way possible -- bale it; chop it, or even blow it back on the ground as mulch.

“You may need to damage plants by driving on them to turn hay to speed drying and get sunlight to plants underneath. But do it anyway to prevent old windrows from ruining the rest of your haying year,” he advises.


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2. Watch for problems in damaged strips.

“If the wet windrows lay there too long, the plants underneath will be smothered,” he explains. “This not only lowers yield, it creates a terrible weed problem as grasses and broadleaves infest the killed strips. These weeds will contaminate all future cuttings. In addition, if rained-on hay windrows are left in the field until next cutting, they frequently will plug your mower, both slowing you down and maybe even expanding your vocabulary.”

Anderson says the quality of the new hay will also be low, which means more than one cutting suffers from having windrows getting rained on. “Insects and weeds may invade, and then need treating to prevent further problems,” he says. “There isn’t much of a positive payback managing rained-on hay, but to ignore it is even more expensive.”

3. Store hay to keep moisture at bay.

While storing hay indoors would be ideal, it’s not practical for many producers. Anderson offers some outdoor storage techniques that help minimize loss from now until winter.  

“Over one-fourth of your hay’s nutrients can be lost due to weathering between now and feeding next winter,” he says. “To minimize these losses, begin by making dense, evenly formed bales or stacks. They will shed water better and sag less than a soft core or less dense package. Use net wrap or plastic twine spaced no more than 4 in. apart on round bales to maintain bale shape and provide a smooth surface that encourages water runoff.”

Anderson recommends storing hay on elevated, well-drained spots that will prevent the bales from soaking up moisture from wet soil or standing water.

“Especially avoid terrace valleys,” he recommends. “Also avoid fences or tree lines that cause snow to drift onto hay or that prevent wind and sunshine from drying off wet bales. Often our biggest mistake is placing bales so water that runs off of one bale ends up soaking into an adjacent bale. Never stack round bales during the rainy season unless they are covered or unless they will be fed very soon. And avoid placing bales in a row with the twine or wrapped ends touching one another.”

He says the best way to store round bales is to make sure there is 1 ft. of air space on all sides of the bale for good ventilation. Round bales should be in rows with the flat ends butted together to form a cigar-like shape, Anderson explains.

“Orient these rows north and south so prevailing winds will not cause snow drifts and so both sides of the row can receive sunlight for drying,” he suggests.

With these guidelines, Anderson says ranchers can lower storage losses, increase feed quality, and improve animal performance.

As I write this blog post, it’s thundering outside and the clouds are darkening, so it looks like our plans to cut hay today won’t pan out. But I will keep these suggestions in mind as we put up hay this summer. Although these are pretty basic suggestions, they are good reminders as we round up forage for the winter months.

How is haying going in your neck of the woods? Have you had a wet summer, or are you praying for rain? How are you dealing with the conditions in your area? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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