Does it pay to put hay in storage rather than leave it exposed to the weather?
There’s no question about it, according to Ian Wishart, chair of the Manitoba Forage Council.
“I hate to leave hay out uncovered,” said Wishart, who grows alfalfa and timothy hay for the export market and for his own livestock.
Hay sheds are Wishart’s preference for storing forages. The sheds are an investment that will pay dividends to producers even if the hay is only for their own livestock, he said.
“They do pay for themselves fairly quickly. Through the forage council, we’re trying to encourage producers to do that.”
Kevin Yaworski, a Manitoba Agriculture forage agronomist, said there is a hidden cost to not sheltering hay.
Unprotected hay can mean lost feed quality, mould growth and bleaching. Spoilage can often cost a producer 15 percent of the hay crop in a year.
As the cost of land and hay production increases, producers are becoming more conscious of how much hay is lost to spoilage.
However, Yaworski said there are still producers who fail to take that loss into account.
“It’s something that isn’t really first and foremost on their minds.”
Yaworski considers hay sheds the ultimate answer for protecting hay from the elements.
Tarping is another option.
One of the drawbacks to tarping, said Yaworski, is that the bottom bales likely will become unsuitable for the cash hay market. The same applies to hay stacks left entirely unsheltered.
“Most of the time the bottom bales are lost on the outside storage no matter what you do.”
Yaworski offered these tips for producers using tarps and has additional advice about hay storage posted on the Manitoba Agriculture website:
- Run the stacks north and south or angle them northwest to southeast.
- Space stacks at least 40 feet (12 metres) from other stacks, buildings or trees. That allows for easy access, good ventilation and sun exposure.
- Use a ridge bale or peak the top of the stack for ventilation and for rain and snow run-off.
- The stack ends should be left open allowing air to circulate through the top of the stack. That allows condensation caused from sweating to escape.
- Overlap the tarps by one to 1.5 metres to prevent water running in.
- Tie close to the edge of the tarps when tying them down. Tighten and retie the tarps every month or as needed.
- The tarps should cover at least one metre down the side of the stack.
- Buy quality tarping with reinforced grommets. A quality tarpw should last three to five years with only minor repairs needed from time to time.
Tarps are not suited for covering round bales. However, there are measures producers can use to protect those bales:
- When moving round bales into rows or stacks, consider using a prong rather than grapple forks, said Don Green, a Manitoba Agriculture forage specialist. Grapple forks can “rough up” the outside of the bales creating a greater chance for moisture to get inside.
- When stacking bales in single rows, leave at least a third of a metre between each row. Green advises leaving 10-15 centimetres of space between each bale in the row.
- He also noted that solid, denser bales are better able to shed rain than loose ones. When striving for denser bales, be sure the hay is well cured and at the right moisture content before wrapping it up.
- There is a plastic wrap available to go around the circumference of round bales. The wrap goes on during baling.