For example, a weathered depth of only four inches on a 5-foot bale (seven percent in terms of cylinder volume) actually equals a 25 percent loss in terms of forage volume. Other studies have shown that losses of 14 inches on bales equates to losses of 74 percent, nearly three-fourths of a bale could be lost simply because it isn’t stored properly.

Hay quality is a key component of animal performance, and proper hay storage is a key component of hay quality. Hay loss can be expected, even under a barn, so mitigation and risk management is the key to maintaining as much of your investment as possible.

Building a hay barn can be expensive, but if you’re storing your hay on the ground in the elements, you are most assuredly paying for the cost of a barn and then some, whether you want to or not.

In Georgia’s humid conditions, storage of hay for several months results in typical losses of 20 to 60 percent with twine and net-wrapped hay outside on shaded ground (compared to only 2 to 10 percent under a barn).

Once you determine your hay’s value, you can see how much this is really costing you (and your animals) in the long-run.

To help mitigate losses on hay stored outdoors, run rows of hay bales on an upland site away from shade from trees. This speeds up the drying process.

Place the bales with a north-south orientation and southern exposure.

Set bales in rows so that the flat sides are touching — not the round sides. This keeps rain from ponding on top of bales.

Also, keep rows at least three feet apart to allow for sunlight and good air circulation.

Keeping bales off the ground, either by using pallets, crossties, or rocks, is critical in preventing substantial losses.

(Robert Adam Speir is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Madison County.)

 

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HAY BALES outline a field in Butts Co., Ga. Image credit: Sharon Dowdy