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Wildcat Extension District

Hay Storage to Reduce Loss

Large round bales can be a practical and economic way to put up hay to use at a later date. Reducing the amount hay lost to storage is beneficial to any producer. It’s key to note that storage losses occur even under the best storage conditions with any type of hay. However, losses are greatest for large round bales stored outside, which also happens to be the most common method of hay storage in Kansas.

Weathering losses are generally limited to the outer 4 to 8 inches of hay stored outside. However, in a 5-foot-diameter bale, approximately one third of the bale’s volume is in the outer 4 inches, and more than half of the volume is in the outer 8 inches. For a 6-foot-diameter bale, one third of the hay is in the outer 6 inches, and one-half is in the outer 12 inches. Most commonly, 4 inches of weathering losses are found in bales stored unprotected outside.

Round bale storage losses can be minimalized through good management. One important factor is choosing the correct storage site. The deterioration at the bottom of bales stored on damp soil or on weeds and tall grasses can be substantial. A well-drained site will help minimize moisture absorption. Elevating bales by adding a layer of 3 to 4 inches of crushed rock to the storage site will help minimize losses on the bottom of the bales. Storing bales on the ridge of hill instead of near the bottom will also help to reduce bottom deterioration. The presence of trees around the storage site is another factor to consider. Bales stored outside need air circulation and sunlight to help dry the outer layer after a rain. Storing the bales under trees blocks wind circulation and sunlight. Any rain protection trees might provide is more than offset by the damage from shading.

The stacking method is also important in the amount of hay lost in storage. If bales are stored individually, a space of at least 18 inches between bales in needed for air circulation. Storing bales with the rounded sides touching is not recommended because this creates a trap for rain and snow. Tightly stacking bales end to end makes better use of the storage area and protects the ends from weathering. If bales are not stacked tightly against each other, rain could penetrate the ends and increase damage. North-south bale rows allow equal amount of sunlight on both sides of the bale row, which results in more uniform drying. Leaving at least 3 feet between rows allows air circulation and sunlight to reach bales and reduces the chance of snow accumulation on the bales. In the past, stacking bales in pyramids has been a popular way to minimize storage space requirements. However, if bales are not covered, weathering losses can be devastating.

Barn storage is the best method for preserving hay quality, but it can expensive if a new structure needs to be built. The economics of barn storage will also vary considerably from one area to another, so producers should carefully analyze the economics of barn storage for their individual operation, goals and needs.

If you have questions or would like more information, please call me at the office (620) 331-2690 or email me at jlsigle@ksu.edu, or visit the Wildcat Extension District website at www.wildcatdistrict.ksu.edu.


Jeri Geren (Sigle)
Crop Production Agent
Wildcat Extension District
(620) 331-2690
Twitter: @WEDCrops
Pinterest: Wildcat Extension District

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