Hay Storage


Hay is a big expense for cattle operations. Keeping the expense down requires hay to be stored efficiently and cost effectively. A lot of hay harvested in Georgia is stored outside in large round bales. When hay is stored outside, it is exposed to rain and it deteriorates before it is fed in winter months. Some producers store forage in hay barns which significantly cuts down on waste and increases profits. Before the rush of hay making season is upon us, here are some tips on storing hay both outside and also under the barn from Colquitt County Ag Agent Jeremy Kichler:

Outside Storage Considerations

Hay that is stored outside will go through times when it will get wet and then dry out. It will subsequently develop a fibrous, weathered layer. When forages go through the wetting and drying process, nutrients are leached out. This causes the fiber component of the forage to represent a larger proportion of the dry weight. Table 1 (below) shows the changes in digestibility and crude protein of a grass and a grass-legume mixed forage when it is weathered and not weathered. This experiment shows that weathering causes TDN to decrease while the crude protein increases in both the grass and grass legume mix. Carbohydrates often leach out, but protein does not. So, weathering decreases digestibility and, by difference, the protein is a greater proportion (i.e., the percentage increases).


Table 2 shows the typical ranges of storage losses for various hay storage methods that include pole barns, hoop structures, and outside storage. This experiment also evaluates how baling the hay with twine or net wrap affects storage. When the hay is stored under a pole barn or hoop structure, dry matter losses range from 2 to 5%. Dry matter losses from outside storage ranged from 20 to 60%.


Table 3 shows the value of hay lost based off the percent of forage lost and how much dry matter per ton the hay is valued. For example, if hay is valued at $100 per ton on a dry matter basis, and we experience 30 percent loss, then there is a $30 per ton loss forage. That is a lot considering the investment in fertilizer, lime, pesticides, etc. that is required in hay production.


If hay must be stored outside, it should be stored in a sunny location. Hay should never be stored under trees where air circulation is questionable. Bale rows should run north and south instead of east to west. Hay growers should place the flat ends of round bales together and the rounded sides should not touch. Hay rows should be at least 3 feet apart to help with air circulation.

Having well-formed, tight bales can help hay growers reduce storage loses. A minimum of 10 pounds of hay per cubic foot is recommended for outside hay storage. A denser bale will resist water infiltration which will cut down on weathering. In order to make a denser bale, hay growers need to be aware of baling at safe moisture levels. This is because a more dense bale can reduce the amount of moisture and heat that escapes.

Soil contact of hay bales is an issue with outside storage. Research data shows that around 50% or more outside storage losses occur due to hay having contact with soil. Hay growers reduce storage losses by placing their crop on a rock pad, concrete or wooden pallets. If this is not possible, then look for well drained areas. Growers can place bales on a slope that allows water to drain away from the hay. Bales should be placed up and down the slope to minimize water flowing around the hay.

Inside Storage Considerations

If a hay producer has an open sided barn, then it should be oriented with the long axis east and west to minimize the exposure to sun light. If one side of the hay barn is open, then face it away from the prevailing wind which would generally be on the south side. This would minimize rain exposure of the hay being stored. Buildings for hay storage need to be open at the peak of the roof to allow moisture to escape as the hay dries. If the gables are closed, condensation and rust will occur inside the roof. More hay can be stored in a barn if you stack the bales on the flat end rather on the round side. Also consider the addition of side walls so the facility can be used for both equipment storage and hay.  

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