Minimizing storage losses in hay

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Each harvest season brings concerns regarding storage options for hay. Indeed, producers need to find ways to prevent shrink losses in their bunkers and storage systems. Hay storage losses are around 5% when it is harvested at 15% moisture and stored under dry conditions. Stored forages provide essential nutrients for livestock when pastures are inadequate and are a consistent feed supply for dairies, sheep flocks, cow/calf producers, and beef feedlots. However, some of these nutrients can be lost if forages are not stored properly.

Types of Storage Losses

Stored forage can be subjected to dry matter and quality losses. Losses of dry hay stored inside a barn are usually not a concern, however, even when barn-stored, losses tend to increase when its moisture exceeds 20%. Generally, each step in the forage-preservation process (i.e., mowing, ranking, chopping, baling, storing, and unloading) will likely cause losses of forage dry matter. Losses can either be mechanical or biological. During hay-making, most of the losses are mechanical or weather damage. When putting up silage however, most losses occur during the storage and feed-out stages. Round bales are usually subjected to greater losses than small rectangular bales because between baling and feed-out they tend to remain outside uncovered.

Factors Affecting Outside Storage Losses

Some of the most important factors relating the value of outside storage losses are:

  1. Bale Density: With dry hay (10-20%), the denser the bale, the lower the amount of spoilage that occurs. The density of round bales should be a minimum of 10 lbs of hay per cubic foot.
  2. Field operations: Uniform swaths, sized to match the recommendations of the baler being used help produce uniform and dense hay bales.
  3. Weather conditions: For hay stored outside, increased precipitation results in greater chances of storage losses.
  4. Bale orientation and placement: Large round bales should be stored in rows with sides not touching to avoid higher amount of moisture inside the bales. If possible, rows should be orientated north-south to allow more hours of exposure of the round bale’s sides to the sun. At least 3 feet should be left between bale rows to ensure good sunlight penetration and air circulation.

How to Minimize Storage Losses

Practice

Benefit

Alfalfa cut at pre-bud or early bud

Higher forage quality, lower yield

Alfalfa cut at bloom stage

Higher yielding but lower quality

Mow forage early in day

Allow full day to dry (less respiration loss and faster drop in moisture)

Form into wide swath

Increase drying rate

Rake at 40-50% moisture content

Increase drying rate

Baling moisture levels

Hay in small bales should be at or below 20% moisture, hay in round bales at 18%, and hay in large bales at 16% moisture when baled.

Store hay under cover

Inhibits molds and browning

There are many aspects to consider for hay storage. Barn storage is usually considered to be the best method but sometimes it’s not feasible for producers. Hay stored outside has usually more spoilage and is less palatable than the one stored inside. No matter what type of storage and feeding methods are used, some losses are always possible. However by following the recommended storage methods, and careful handling, losses can be minimized saving livestock producer’s time and money.



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