Cattle Feeding: Evaluating Hay Storage Methods

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The winter of 2009 was one to remember with extended periods of record low temperatures and above average snowfall. Not to mention the rain. But, in spite of all the adverse weather conditions, spring has sprung! Days are getting longer, temperatures are rising and grass is beginning to grow. Soon there will be excess grass that will need to be harvested and stored for winter feeding. The method in which hay is stored will have an impact on the amount of hay required to carry the herd through the winter.

In 2009, five hay storage loss demonstrations were conducted in four counties: Calhoun, Fulton, Izard and Union. Storage methods included 1) outside, on the ground, uncovered, twine wrapped; 2) outside, elevated on tires, uncovered, twine wrapped; 3) outside, on the ground, uncovered, plastic net wrap; 4) outside, stored on concrete, uncovered, plastic net wrap; 5) barn, twine wrapped. The average hay quality of the bales was 11.1% protein and 58.1% TDN. The bales used measured 4' x 5' with an average dry matter weight of 674 pounds.

Several observations were made on storage losses over an average 237-day storage period. The greatest dry matter loss, 25.4% or 170 lb, was associated with bales that were stored outside, on the ground, uncovered, twine wrapped. Twine-wrapped bales showed significant deterioration along the twine valleys, penetrating several inches into the bale. Significant deterioration was also seen on the bottom of the bales where the bales were in contact with the ground. The higher moisture content at the bottom of the bales stored on the ground, outside, causes the hay to decay more rapidly, resulting in dry matter loss.

One study compared bales stored outside, on the ground, uncovered, twine wrapped with bales stored outside, elevated on tires, uncovered, twine wrapped. Storing the bales on tires reduced waste from 22.6% to 19.8%, a 12% reduction. In a Louisiana study, 10 percent less hay was lost from handling and storage when hay was stored on a wooden rack versus being stored on the ground.

Plastic net wrapping was an effective way of reducing loss associated with hay being stored outside. Hay that was stored outside, on the ground, uncovered, plastic net wrap had an average dry matter loss of 13.3% or 86 lb. No benefit was seen in this study by storing the hay on concrete. This is likely due to the fact moisture was being trapped beneath the bale and the hay that was stored on the ground was at a well drained site.

The least amount of dry matter loss, 9.6% or 66 lb, was associated with bales stored in a barn, twine wrapped. A permanent hay shed is the best method of minimizing storage losses. However, the cost of building a hay barn must be compared with the cost of expected hay losses. In addition, hay harvested too wet and stored in a barn can result in a fire. Losses from poor quality hay are not as severe as losses from high quality hay. If there is not enough cover to store all hay, put the best quality hay under cover.

Before changing current hay storage practices on the farm, several items should be considered. The first is cost. Gather enough data (Table 1) to determine what losses would be expected under the current condition and losses under the alternative to discover the net value of conserved (or lost) hay. Second, evaluate hay quality. Obviously, invest in protecting the highest quality hay. If hay quality is low, losses will be minimal. Third, evaluate the life expectancy and labor involved in storage. Barns provide the best protection and smallest loss, but barns also have the greatest investment cost. The initial investment in a tarp is far less; however, the life expectancy of a tarp is short (some manufacturers offer a three-year warranty). In addition, a tarp has no benefit if it stays blown off its stack. Storing hay on structures to reduce moisture wicking should be approached with caution. Aggregate provides a well drained surface, but gravel size aggregate has resulted in cows breaking teeth from rock that gets caught up in the hay. Some producers have used tires. Be aware that belting caught in hay could lead to hardware disease. Broken pallets should be discarded to avoid the potential for hardware disease as well.





Source: Kenny Simon, Program Associate, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture



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