Hay may be a less costly source of nutrition for livestock producers and it is the most common stored feed source. Producing quality hay is a task that involves time, energy, and expense. Every year more than 60 million acres in the U.S. are dedicated to hay production which yields over 12 million dollars for producers. Due to the significant importance and investment in hay production or purchase, proper storage conditions are essential to decrease losses in hay quantity and quality. With a little forethought and effort, these losses can be reduced by considering location of bale density, wrap type, storage site, and barn storage.
Hay exposed to weather conditions during storage may lose dry matter and nutrients and allow the growth of undesirable microbes causing a decrease in forage intake and animal performance. Here are some practices to consider when storing hay in the harsh Florida environment.
By increasing the bale density and uniformity reduces the chance of spoilage by reducing the moisture penetration. However, it also reduces the rate at which moisture and heat can escape the bale. Strive for a bale density of at least 10 lbs/cu ft. For example, if a round bale is 780lbs and is 4×5 feet. The volume (2x h) equals 78 cubic feet. Divide the bale weight by the volume= 10lbs/cu ft. To reach different densities adjust your baler, operate your rakes, tedders, and balers in the same direction, and keep tight windrows. Some grass types can also contribute to tighter bales, such as fine stemmed grasses, such as bermudagrass
Bale wrapping can also lend to improved storage performance. Net wrap has shown better results than twine in preventing loss. Net wrap takes less product (only 2-3 revolutions) and it stabilizes the bale better making handling and storage easier.
The storage site can play a huge role in long-term quality. Well-drained areas are the best to reduce moisture transfer into the bale. Choose sandy soils, a rock pad, concrete floor or something that can let air move, like pallets (be aware of old nails), railroad ties, or telephone poles. Stack bales flat end together in rows, to reduce exposure on each end. Rows should run north to south, to increase sun exposure for drying, and if possible on a slight slope to encourage drainage. Rows should be 3 feet apart to increase airflow and reduce moisture build-up.
Barn storage reduces weathering effects. A barn can reduce hay losses by up to 25% compared to exposed hay. Barn stored hay also reduces the deterioration of the appearance, which for commercial producers this could be of considerable interest. However, appearance is not closely linked to nutrient content.
To reduce the risk of your hay combusting, bale your hay at the proper moisture levels (10-15%) and place rows of hay a significant distance away (50 feet of more) from buildings and old crops of hay.
Maintain your hay value by considering these storage practices. If you are in the business of hay making, it may also benefit you to sell your hay straight off-site so you don’t have the cost and loss of storage. Consider your own operation needs and management inputs as you make these decisions. What’s right for your neighbor may not be what’s right for your operation.