The old adage “make hay while the sun shines” definitely applies this year, as many farmers are seeing good to excellent pasture conditions. With smaller cowherds, many cattlemen may be utilizing that extra forage to put up more hay this year.
Cutting and baling quality hay starts in the pasture, but maintaining that quality requires that bales be stored in a way that protects them from the elements. Research shows that when bales have been stored outside for six months or more, dry matter losses of 30% or more are common, says Garry Lacefield, forage specialist at the University of Kentucky. Those losses are the result of weathering and moisture wicking from the ground into the hay bale. In addition, the weathered portions become less palatable, leading to waste.
Placing hay in a storage structure allows you to stockpile hay when there are ample supplies and lower prices. But you need to look at it on paper to see which storage options would be most affordable.
“Barn storage is a highly effective method of storing hay,” Lacefield says. “When the typical dry matter storage loss of dry hay during inside storage [usually around 5%] is compared to dry matter losses of hay stored outside [30% or more], it isn’t difficult to see that reduced losses can often provide the payback on barn construction within a few years.”
In areas where there’s frequent and higher rainfall, this is especially true. The cost of building a structure can usually be justified by less additional hay or supplements needed to make up for dry matter losses.
The most important features of any hay storage structure are the roof and adequate drainage to control any runoff.
“You don’t even need a concrete floor; a gravel floor or some other material will do to keep moisture away from the hay,” says Don Gill, Texas AgriLife Extension Service beef specialist. Placing pallets between the floor and hay can also work. BT