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5 Considerations For Proper Hay Storage During Winter

proper hay storage tips

With winter just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about hay. Karla Hernandez, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension forages field specialist, recently wrote an article about how to store and preserve the hay you’ve spent all summer working hard to put up. I’ve rounded up five considerations from her article to help you get the most out of your hay this winter.

1. Store hay inside

While this isn’t always possible, it is the best way to keep your hay intact.

“Uncovered hay bales stored outside on the ground can result in high hay dry matter (DM) losses that could range from 5-20%," Hernandez says. "In most cases, it is recommended to elevate bales using gravel, which can reduce DM losses to 3-15%. The best option for storage is covering hay bales with tarps, which will help to prevent losses on hay stored outside."


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2. Storing rectangle bales

Square bales or larger rectangle bales are often stored inside a barn or loft, but ventilation is key, says Hernandez.

"Good ventilation is needed during the first 1-3 weeks after baling to eliminate moisture quickly as it exits the stack," she says.  

3. Storing round bales

Round bales can deteriorate anywhere from 5-40% DM, depending on climate and the degree of protection from weather, she says.

"Round bales are usually stored outside in contact with the ground and unprotected from the weather. Outside storage losses are small in dry regions or in areas where winter precipitation is mainly snow," she said. "Weathering will decrease DM digestibility and usually increases fiber levels. Interestingly, hay that lies beneath weathered material on outside stored bales has similar forage quality to hay stored in the shed."  

4. Proper baling

If bales are loosely packed, more snow and rain will penetrate. Hernandez recommends checking for moisture on newly formed bales by pressing the outer layer with the palm of your hand.  

"If your palm goes in more than about a half-inch, significant losses should be expected," she says.

5. Feeding hay

Cattle can waste up to 50% of hay fed. It can be a challenge to know the best methods for feeding.  

"Since hay stored outside usually has more spoilage during storage and lower palatability than hay stored inside, producers should feed that hay first," she recommends.

While it is impossible to eliminate all waste, keeping the above considerations in mind and working to minimize waste by cattle after feeding can help you get the most out of your hay supply. Of course, inside storage isn't always an option, but providing some kind of covering can greatly cut quality losses. It's also important to keep bales directly off the ground, so they don't wick moisture, and selecting an open area away from trees for stacking bales; this will help drying following wet periods. Arrange bales in a single layer with 3-4 ft. of space between rows to help improve air circulation around the bales. Avoid stacking bales if they aren’t covered, and select an elevated area, so rainfall drains away from the bales.

For more information, check out SDSU's

From my own experience, I know that aiming for the “perfect” situation for storing and feeding hay is difficult, but it’s always good to try and to reduce waste any way we can. Winter feeding can be the most expensive time of year, so any way to reduce waste and save money is a win-win.

How do you store and feed your hay to reduce waste? Share your recommendations in the comments section below.

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