Don’t spoil your hay — store it properly

Forage expert offers tips for reducing spoilage, and makes a pitch for having a hay shed

While hay quality varies across the province, how to store that hay for the best results doesn’t.

“We’ve got a mixed bag this year,” said provincial beef and forage specialist Barry Yaremcio. “Some people cut their hay early, got caught with the rains and had it discolour before it even got into the bales. Others are cutting now and may be looking at plants that are more mature than optimum. In both cases, quality may be down a bit.”

No matter what the case, feed test to know what you’re starting with, and work from there, he said.

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“If the hay was baled tough, and you notice the bales are slumping, have a slight tobacco smell, or a moisture probe reads over 40 C, some of the protein will be tied up with the fibre and unavailable to the animal. In that case, a secondary analysis of acid detergent insoluble nitrogen (ADIN) needs to be done as well.”

Bales should be left in the field for seven to 10 days to cool off and for moisture to equalize throughout the bale before being put in the shed or feed yard.

“When the hay does get stacked in the shed, you’ll still need some air movement through the shed to keep the bales cool.”

When it comes to stacking bales in the field, there are a number of different methods for stacking.

One method is the pyramid style, with three bales on the bottom, two in the middle and one on the top.

“That’s actually the poorest way to do it,” said Yaremcio. “If it rains after the stacks are made, or if snow melts during the winter, all that moisture will work its way through the stack from the top down, and cause spoilage wherever the bales contact each other.”

The mushroom stack, with bottom bale flat and the second one on top, is better than the pyramid but still will end up with a lot of damage.

“The best method, however, if you have the space, is to put single bales in rows with the individual bales in the rows separated by about six inches so they don’t touch.”

If bales are weathered over winter, they can potentially lose from 100 to 200 pounds due to deterioration, protein content may drop one to two per cent, and digestibility, if used in the second year, can be down 10 to 15 per cent.

“For outside storage, hard-core bales are better than soft bales, and the tighter you can get them the better, and net wrap is preferable to twine.”

A hay shed is still the best solution.

“Considering the losses you can get with having bales stored outside, it can take about four years of retained nutrients and dry matter to pay for the shed.”

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