Reduce loss when storing bales outside

Clif Little, OSU Extension, Agriculture and Natural Resources

August 7, 2023


How we store hay makes a difference in the potential for winter forage losses. It is estimated that unprotected round bales of hay stored outside can experience four to eight inches or more of spoilage loss on the outside of the bale over the course of the winter.

      A weathered area of six inches deep on a 5.6-foot by 5.6-foot bale contains approximately one-third of the total bale volume. If that bale weighs 800 pounds and sells for $65 dollars, then a six-inch spoilage loss is approximately 240 pounds or a value loss of approximately $19.50.

Factors affecting loss

      Many factors affect the extent of round bale storage loss each year. These include factors such as bale density, storage time, size of bale, wrap, forage type, weed content, environmental conditions and storage methods.

      The bale storage site is an extremely important factor in reducing loss. Characteristics of an ideal storage area are those that drain well, have a slight slope, are close to the winter-feeding area and not shaded by trees. In addition to full sun, it is best to have a southern exposure. Our objective here is to have bales at a location of easy access, that dry quickly based on sun exposure, and bale rows that don’t pool water.

      Place the bales in a north-to-south direction and in rows up and down these slopes, with the flat ends butted together. This will allow water to drain away quickly. Anything we can do to keep bales from soil contact will reduce bottom spoilage.

      It is recommended that rows be spaced three feet apart to promote good air circulation. Ideally, our outside bale storage area would be located away from buildings, to reduce fire risk.

      Recently, more operations have chosen to store dry round bales (less than 20% moisture), and that have gone through the sweat in rows of plastic wrap. When done correctly, this can result in an effective way of preserving forage quality and reducing loss.

      Winter feed cost is a large part of livestock production and giving some attention to hay storage can help to reduce the cost of production, while providing more nutritious forage to our livestock.

Southern Livestock

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