Hay bales need safe winter storage

It is best to store bales in single rows, leaving space between them and between the rows so they do not touch

As time and winter progress, those stored hay bales squat lower and lower. That’s gravity and nature at work, but up to a point, ranchers can preserve hay quality for their livestock through haying method and storage.

Barry Yaremcio, Alberta Agriculture livestock and forage specialist, says indoor storage of bales is the best way to preserve quality but that isn’t practical for many — perhaps most — livestock producers who put up and store feed for winter.

Outdoor storage is the norm and in that case, the best method is to store bales in single rows, leaving space between the bales and between the rows so the bales do not touch.

A pyramid stack is the worst storage method in terms of potential damage, he told those participating in an Alberta Agriculture webinar, because moisture gets between the bales and works its way down. In a year or two, the touch point between bales turns black and the rest deteriorates from there.

A mushroom stack is also problematic. The top bale may have little spoilage but water is channelled to the bottom bale, which also absorbs moisture from the ground.

“The concern with that is, when you get the higher moisture content, you’re going to have mould development in those areas and cows will refuse to eat that feed.

“Whenever you have environment or weather impacting upon a hay or a silage or any other physical product, there is going to be damages and losses to it,” said Yaremcio.

Level of deterioration is also affected by bale type, density, and whether twine or net wrap was used. A net-wrapped bale with a hard core will last longer than other types, said Yaremcio.

In any case, bales should be used by the end of the second year if possible.

“Beyond that, it’s not much better than straw” in terms of feed value. If buying older bales, he advised getting a feed test and weighing the bales because they will be 150 to 200 pounds lighter than they were on the day they were made due to moisture loss and natural degradation.

He cited studies indicating bales stored outside have 7.2 percent lower digestibility and reduce feed consumption by about eight percent compared to those stored indoors.

Alberta Agriculture business management specialist Ted Nibourg noted hay carryover in Alberta has been greatly depleted in the past few years due to weather conditions. That has had an effect on average prices, especially in the province’s south.

Prices for first-cut mixed hay exceed 10 cents per lb., but elsewhere in the province it’s 5.5 to six cents per lb. Second-cut mixed hay is selling for six to 7.5 cents per lb. in most of the province but is more than 10.5 cents in the south.

Given that a price of about eight cents per lb. allows producers to break even on feed costs, the higher price in some regions is troubling for some, he said.

A similar price difference is in place for first-cut alfalfa, which is selling for about 5.5 cents per lb. in the Peace, 6.5 to eight cents elsewhere in the north and central regions, but 11 cents in the south. Prices for second-cut are similar to slightly higher.

Greenfeed bale prices in most of the province are five to seven cents per lb. and eight cents in the south.

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