Tips for Reducing Round Bale Losses

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Hay-DrainHaymaking weather is certainly here. Farmers have a lot of money and time invested in each hay bale they produce, so it is important to store them properly. Ideally, all hay would be stored under a shelter but unfortunately that’s not always possible. Round bales are the most popular type of bale produced locally and storing them outside is quite common. Round bale losses can easily be as much as 25% when stored outside and unprotected, but losses can be decreased through good management. Keep the following in mind when storing bales outside:

  • Make dense bales. Dense bales sag less and will therefore have less surface touching the ground, where most deterioration occurs. Tight bales will also shed more precipitation.
  • Choose a well-drained storage site. Bales on wet ground will absorb moisture from the ground. Consider placing bales on a 3 to 4 inch layer of crushed rock to improve drainage. You can also set bales on pallets, crossties, or old tires to keep them off the ground. Bales need sunlight and air circulation to dry out after rain or snow. Placing bales under trees can hinder this process, so avoid storing them under trees. Trees may offer some rain protection, but not enough to make much of a difference.
  • Think about how you arrange your hay bales. The two, common storage arrangements are placing bales end to end or stacking them in a pyramid. When placing bales end to end, be sure to align them north to south on gently sloping ground. The slope will help rainwater drain away from the bales and a southern exposure allows for an equal amount of sunlight on each side of the row. If you need to make more than one row, place them at least 3 feet apart. This helps to maximize sunlight and airflow around each row. Stacking bales is a good way to get the most out of your storage space, but there may be an increased chance for loss since the stack usually won’t get as much drying from air and sunlight. This is why it is recommended to use a cover if you stack hay. Hay covers range from simple plastic sheets to heavy-duty commercial hay covers. Covers don’t have to be expensive, but they do need to be sturdy enough to withstand winds, and you need a way to anchor them securely. If you store a large amount of hay every year it’s probably worth investing in a commercial cover.