Give hay breathing room: specialist

Preventing mould, rot | Moisture accumulates in stacked bales and wind cannot dry them out

SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. — Neat triangle-shaped stacks might be producers’ favourite way to store bales, but that method causes the most damage to the hay, said Barry Yaremcio, Alberta’s beef and forage specialist.

He told the Foraging into the Future conference last month that producers who are short on feed and looking at old hay should consider how it has been stored and for how long. The quality will have been affected even if the hay was put up in the best conditions.

He said deterioration begins within 20 days of baling, and every inch of rain results in 180 pounds of water on a six-foot-diameter bale.

Moisture accumulates wherever bales touch each other, causing mould and rot. Bales in a triangle stack lie lengthwise and most of their surfaces are in contact with other bales.

Water or snow runs down between all the top bales into the middle and then into the lower layer.

Damage can be as much as 20 percent, Yaremcio said.

He said the mushroom stack, in which a bale on its flat end is topped with a bale on its side, is better, but it still causes damage of about 10.6 percent, according to research at the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute.

The best method is not to stack the bales at all.

“Keep those bales in single rows and keep them about six to 10 inches apart,” he said.

The rows should be about a metre apart, and it also helps if they can be set on higher ground.

“If you’ve got a northwest-southeast wind, make that row in the same direction so the wind blows and takes all that snow out from between the rows of bales,” he said.

The best way to prevent deterioration is to store hay under cover, such as plastic, tarps or sheds.

Plastic can attract magpies and deer, which make holes and allow moisture inside.

“Net wrap compared to twine provides a better cover and a more uniform surface that water and rain or moisture will run off those bales and go onto the ground,” Yaremcio said.

“Twine that is spaced more than four inches apart will provide valleys and hilltops on that bale and anyplace you’ve got that difference in height on that hay, that’s where the moisture is going to try to seep in and get into the bale itself.”

He said producers should consider using hay sheds with open sides to let the wind through.

An $85,000 shed can store enough hay to feed a 250-cow herd for one year. The payback is 20 years when hay costs $60 per tonne and six to seven years when it is $90 per tonne.

Hay stored indoors offers better digestibility, he added.

Yaremcio recommended a proper feed test to make sure cattle are receiving adequate nutrition from old hay.

“If you have an 11 or 12 percent protein hay the first year with 60 to 65 percent (total digestible nutrients), the second year that hay could only be eight to 10 percent protein, maybe 55 percent TDN, so in fact the loss in quality will prevent you from providing adequate nutrition to a cow in late pregnancy with a two-year-old hay, compared to that first year hay, which will be good enough to feed cows through lactation,” he said.

Cattle eat less old hay, and it should never be fed to weaned calves and replacement heifers.

Mature cows and older cows in mid-pregnancy have the lowest requirements and could be fed the older hay, but Yaremcio advised producers to remember there will be waste.

He also said a balanced ration can save producers $40 to $50 per cow in feed costs.

As well, no studies have been done into the value of three-year-old hay. He advised rolling it out as bedding.

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