With the high price of hay in recent years, producers should do everything they can to protect their investment. One thing producers should look at in particular is their method of storing large round bales, said Doo-Hong Min, K-State Research and Extension crops and soils specialist.
Large round bales are more susceptible to storage losses than small rectangular bales when stored outdoors, he said.
“Much of the dry matter loss with outdoor storage is associated with microbial respiration under optimal moisture, temperature, and nutrient condition for microbes,” said Min, who is a Kansas State University agronomist based at the K-State Southwest Extension office in Garden City.
The following are ways producers can minimize loss when large round bales are stored outside:
- Maintain good bale density. One of the most important ways to reduce round bale loss is to tighten the outer layer of bale. If the bale is not tight enough, microbes are going to use oxygen to break down the bale using moisture and nutrients. If you can depress the surface more than a half inch, the round bale could experience significant loss when placed outside and unprotected. It’s recommended to have a minimum density of 10 pounds of hay per cubic foot.
- Use covers on the bales. Round bales stored outside and covered with either plastic or canvas generally experience much less deterioration than unprotected bales. Weathering can reduce forage quality of round bale hay, particularly digestibility. Plastic wrap, net wrap, reusable tarps, or plastic twine can be used to prevent the loss from weathering. Plastic wrap or net wrap will result in less loss than twine.
- Select a good storage site. Selecting a good storage site is another important consideration in reducing bale loss with little cost involvement. First of all, the storage site should not be shaded and should have good air circulation, which will enhance drying conditions. The storage site also should be well-drained to reduce moisture absorption into the bottom side of the round bales. A well-drained, 4 to 6 inch coarse rock base would help minimize bottom spoilage of a large round bale.
- Elevate the bales to reduce storage loss rather than placing them on the ground. Ground contact can account for more than half of the total dry matter loss. Elevate the bales from the ground using racks, fence posts, discarded pallets, railroad ties, used tires, or a layer of crushed rock about 4 to 6 inches deep to have good drainage.
- Orient rows of bales to promote good drying. It’s recommended to stack large round bales in rows end-to-end, give three feet between rows, and orient the rows in a north-south direction. This will allow the area to dry faster after a rain by having good sunlight and air flow. Vegetation between rows should be mowed to allow good air flow.
Storage loss in large round bales coincides with precipitation amount, Min added.
“Storage loss in eastern Kansas is much greater than in western Kansas. Bales can be stored outside in western Kansas for a couple of years before much significant loss will occur, but storage loss can be significant in eastern Kansas after just one year of outside storage,” Min said.
Rarely would indoor storage pay for itself in western Kansas, but storing high quality/high value forage in eastern Kansas might justify the expense of storing hay under cover, the K-State agronomist added.