Reducing Hay Storage Waste: Barry Potter, Agriculture Development Advisor, OMAFRA

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As we look forward to the upcoming forage season, late winter is a good time to plan forage harvest and storage options. Perhaps you are feeding hay and having to remove a crusted outer layer from hay stored outside. What is the amount of potential forage intake you are wasting?

According to a previous OMAFRA article, if 3 inches around the outside of a 5 foot bale is spoiled, then 19% of the dry matter will be lost. This means that for every 10 bales of hay you feed, 2 would be thrown out. Or you may need to feed 12 bales instead of 10 per cow to get you through the winter. Wastage varies depending on the storage method and climatic conditions in your area. This article will look at various ways to reduce hay spoilage in large round bales, including:

  1. Store hay under roof
  2. Cover hay stored outside
    • tarp
    • plastic wrap
  3. Other options for hay stored outside

Large square bales need to be covered as they do not shed rain very well. Leaving them outside and uncovered will result in a significant amount of spoilage.

  1. Store hay under roof – While an initial capital expense, building long term inside hay storage can be one of the best on-farm investments. When storing hay inside, make sure the hay is dry. A gravel floor can reduce sweating of hay on the bottom versus hay stored on a cement floor. As well, once the hay has been fed, the structure could be used for livestock, perhaps as a calving facility.
  2. Cover hay stored outside
    • Tarp cover – Covering bales with tarps can reduce spoilage. The work to cover the hay with tarps can be daunting. A well-drained base reduces moisture seepage for the bottom row. Keeping the tarps on through the winds of winter is a challenge. Make sure the tarps are tied down well so the wind does not shred them. Some producers tie down the tarps to the bales themselves. Others may use tires or sand bags to secure the tarps. Feeding bales from a tarped stack can be more time consuming as the tarp will need to be rolled back as you feed the bales out.
    • Wrapping dry hay – Many producers use bale wrappers to preserve haylage. This technology can be used to wrap dry hay as well. Some producers use one to two wraps, while others use up to 6 layers, similar to haylage. There are some important considerations when wrapping dry hay:
      • The hay should be dry, and needs to have breathed or be stored inside for a while prior to wrapping.
      • The wrapped hay should be on higher or drier ground, or on a gravel base to stop ground moisture from seeping in.

If you wrap and the hay is still damp, then you will still get spoilage on the outside of the bales. Even wrapping with more plastic will not stop spoilage of damp hay. This method is useful, whether you use a wrapper or use a plastic hay sleeve which is open on both ends.

Hay that has been wrapped showing little spoilage.

Hay that has been wrapped showing little spoilage.

Row of wrapped dry hay. Wrapping methods used are similar to those of wrapped haylage, but with only one or two wraps of plastic

Row of wrapped dry hay. Wrapping methods used are similar to those of wrapped haylage, but with only one or two wraps of plastic

  1. Other options for hay stored outside – The most effective way to store dry round bales is in covered storage with proper management. If bales must be stored outside, net wrapped bales tend to be wound tighter and held together more firmly than twine wrapped bales. Therefore, net wrapped bales shed rain more effectively with less spoilage. University of Wisconsin researchers set out to measure moisture levels in the outside hay rind of net wrapped alfalfa bales and twine wrapped bales. They found that net wrapped alfalfa bales shed rainfall better than twine wrapped bales. Nutrient composition was significantly higher in the outside hay rind and losses were lower for bales wrapped with net wrap compared to bales wrapped with twine. The core of the bale was generally unaffected by wrap type. Average overall total dry matter losses were 11.3% and 7.3% for plastic twine wrapped bales and net wrapped bales, respectively. It is important to consider that, in either situation, bales that are not stored on a well-drained surface can absorb moisture at the bottom of the bales.Another method to reduce spoilage is to leave space between each bale as they are stored. This means the rain water does not collect between the bales and the bales do not tend to spoil as much.

Bales set out with a gap between them, so moisture is not trapped between bales.

Bales set out with a gap between them, so moisture is not trapped between bales.

When you are storing hay outside, it is important to have a dry base for those bales to rest on. Having a gravel base lets any rain water drain away, rather than collect into the bottom of the bales.

Another study by the University of Wisconsin Forage Research Team looked at typical dry matter losses associated with various storage methods. Table 1 shows that even the best system suffers some losses, and there is a range of loss in each system depending on weather and climate. However, spoilage decreases if the bales are covered in some manner.

Table 1. Storage losses associated with various storage methods

Storage Type
Dry Matter Loss (%)
Under roof cover
2-10
Plastic wrap – on ground
4-7
Bale Sleeve – on ground
4-8
Covered – elevated or rock pad
2-17
Covered – on the ground
4-46
Uncovered – elevated or rock pad
3-46
Uncovered – on ground with net wrap
6-25
Uncovered – on ground
5-61

Adapted from Holmes, B. 2004. Round Bale Hay Storage Losses and Costs. Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin Team Forage

References

Bagg, Joel. 2006. Netwrap or Twine?

Ferguson, Thomas. 2016. OMAFRA Virtual Beef: Stretching Forage Supplies.

Holmes, B. 2004. Round Bale Hay Storage Losses and Costs. Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin.

Saxe, Craig. 2007. Big Bale Storage Losses; how different options stack up. Wisconsin Forage Bulletin.

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