The best way to reduce round-bale hay spoilage is to cover the bales to keep rainfall off and break the contact with the soil so the bales do not draw moisture from the ground.
The same University of Kentucky study analyzed various forms of hay storage and found some significant results. Putting the bales inside under a roof is one of the best options, whether it is a steel-roof pole barn, older wooden barn or hoop-roofed barn. Total dry-matter losses are typically only 4 to 7 percent when the hay is stored inside and out of direct contact with the ground.
The ultimate in hay storage options is building a new structure. Of course, this is a long-term investment, but depending on your needs, it can pay for itself in 10 to 15 years if hay is stored each year, especially with today’s higher hay prices.
However, for the short term, plastic coverage offers protection in various forms. Renting an in-line plastic bale wrapper can protect dry round bales for less than $10 per ton. With a dry-matter loss of 4 to 7 percent, plastic coverage is just as good as inside storage, the same study showed.
Covering hay that’s stacked on a pad of stone or porous material with plastic tarps can keep the loss down to the same 4 to 7 percent level if the tarp can be secured well enough against the wind to stay in place.
Plastic bale sleeves slipped over the bale, leaving each end open, diminish rainfall and soil moisture entry into the bale, resulting in the same low-level loss of 4 to 7 percent. However, bale sleeves are labor-intensive because they are put on by hand, so they work best on smaller volumes of round bales.
Stacking uncovered bales on top of one another in a pyramid shape, with the bottom bales in direct contact with the ground, resulted in a 25 to 35 percent loss even though half the bales were off the ground. Net-wrapped bales on the ground suffered a 15 to 25 percent loss, and pyramid-stacked bales on stone or a porous pad suffered a 13 to 17 percent loss.
So, any method of protection is better than leaving the bale outside, exposed to the weather. In a short hay year such as this when all feeds will be high-priced, covering what hay you have is the most important step in determining ways to lessen the impact of the drought.