Limit Forage Losses in Storing, Feeding Hay

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Feeding hay in bale rings will limit losses but not all hay rings are equal. (DTN file photo by Russ Quinn)

When I was teenager growing up on our small eastern Nebraska farm, one of the very first machinery-related chores I was allowed to do on my own was to bring hay to the place from the alfalfa field on the other side of the farm. Occasionally it was small squares bales, but usually it was round bales.

One by one I would bring the bales back with our open station with a John Deere 4010 tractor and a three-point bale mover. We had an area near the cow lots we called our "bale yard"; we lined up the bales there until they were fed to our cow-calf herd that winter.

While we are not at the same farm today, we still have a "bale yard" area at the new place in which we store our hay. We even have enough room there for a hay pile when the custom hay grinder comes.

I think this first chore is why I have a keen interest in properly storing hay. In press release titled "Proper hay storage reduces waste, increases profit", the University of Missouri (MU) Extension advises different practices that forage/livestock producers can employ to make sure their forage quality is maintained.

Jim Humphrey, MU Extension agronomist and member of the NRCS-MU Grasslands Project, said there are many factors that can influence how bales make the trip from the field to the cow. One factor can be environmental, such as sunlight, precipitation, evaporation and ground conditions, which can all affect forage quality.

Another factor is bale size which can affect how much is wasted. Larger-diameter bales have less loss while smaller bales have about twice as much exposed surface for the same amount of hay.

Humphrey said in a five-foot bale, more than 30% of the bale is in the outer 6 inches, the part which is most apt to be wasted. More than 26% is in the next 6 inches and just over 20% of the bale is in the well-protected center core.

In a 66-inch bale weighing 1,400 pounds, about 18% of the bale -- or 248 lbs. -- are in the outer 3 inches. The next 3 inches make up 27% or 381 lbs. of the bale.

About 45% of the total bale is in the outer 9 inches, which are the most vulnerable to weathering.

Humphrey said ideally bales should be stored inside or covered. Many producers do not have the facilities to store all of their bales under a roof.

There are practices producers can do to reduce hay waste if bales are stored outside, he said.

Bales should be stacked end-to-end. Open-faced bales receive damage from sunlight and precipitation on the two exposed ends, he said. As spoilage occurs, bales flatten and squat closer to the ground, which increases the amount of surface exposed to moisture.

If hay has to sit outside, bales stored on damp soils flatten more easily and spoil faster than properly stored bales, according to Charles Ellis, MU Extension agricultural engineering specialist. Bales should be stored away from trees and in a spot which is sunny with a breeze.

Store bales end-to-end on elevated ground that is well-drained. The round sides of the bale should not touch each other and leave about 3 feet between rows of bales, he said.

When feeding forage, there are different ways to limit waste. Studies from the MU Forage Systems Research Center show that feeding in bale rings reduces the waste.

All bale rings, however, are not created equally. Various studies show that open rings have 20% waste, compared to 5% for cone rings.

Some producers will feed round bales by unrolling the bales. This method has about 43% waste with the advantage that aggressive cows can be spaced away from more timid cows attempting to get at the hay.

Another factor to consider when feeding hay is to feed hay in well-drained areas. In addition, MU also recommends feeding forage in small amounts to eliminate waste.

We do not have a hay shed on our farm, although that would certainly be something I would like to have someday. In recent years we have accumulated enough old tires that we can set most of our bales on them to keep the moisture out of the bales.

We have a couple bale rings and couple portable hay feeders we utilize to feed hay. One of the portable feeders has a liner on the inside to feed silage or in our case chopped hay.

Over the years we have found grinding our hay and using these more efficient hay feeders help us to limit the amount of hay the cows are wasting. It would be nice to eliminate all forage waste, but that really is not possible.

To read the entire MU press release, click on the following link:….

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