Proper hay storage and feeding reduces costs

There are two ways for producers to have more hay: Grow more or store it better.

Many factors influence how bales make the trip from the field to the cow, says Jim Humphrey, a University of Missouri agronomist and member of the NRCS+MU Grasslands Project.

Environmental factors such as sunlight, precipitation, evaporation and ground conditions can affect quality.

The size of the bale itself affects how much hay is wasted, says Humphrey. Larger-diameter bales have less loss. Smaller bales have about twice as much exposed surface for the same amount of hay.

In a 5-foot bale, more than 30% of the bale is in the outer 6 inches, the part most apt to be wasted. More than 26% is in the next 6 inches. Just over 20% is in the well-protected 12-inch center core.

In a 66-inch bale weighing 1,400 pounds, 17.7% of the bale—248 pounds—is in the outer 3 inches. The next 3 inches make up 27.2% or 381 pounds of the bale. In other words, Humphrey says, 44.9% of the total bale is in the outer 9 inches, the part most vulnerable to weather damage.

Ideally, hay bales should be stored in a covered, protected area. While most are not, producers can still reduce waste by changing a few things when storing bales outside:

Stack bales end-to-end. Open-faced bales receive damage from sunlight and precipitation on the two exposed ends. The outer 6 inches on each side makes up 280 pounds or 20% of a 5 x 5.5-foot round bale weighing 1,400 pounds.

This is a significant amount of resources and cash in a beef operation, Humphrey says. For example, producers can reduce the number of 5 x 5.5-foot bales fed from 303 to 242 for 100 cows from December 1 to April 15. “Assuming hay sells for $55 per bale, that is an additional $3,355,” he says.

Store bales properly. Always put hay under a roof if you can. As spoilage occurs, bales flatten and squat closer to the ground. This increases the amount of surface area exposed to moisture. Bales stored on damp soil flatten more easily and spoil quicker than properly stored bales. Also, remember that tighter, denser, bales repel water better and wick up less moisture from the ground.

Store bales away from trees. Choose a sunny location with a breeze, and try and store the bales end-to-end on elevated ground that drains well. The round sides of the bale should not touch each other. Leave about 3 feet between rows of bales. This makes them easier to access with tractors and also makes it easier to do forage tests.

Feed in small amounts. Limit access to bales. While more convenient, feeding less often adds to waste. Limiting access gives cows less opportunity to trample or soil hay. But do not overfeed; make animals clean up the majority of hay before adding new bales. Feed hay stored outside before hay stored inside. Hay stored outside usually has more spoilage and lower palatability than hay stored inside. Cattle will waste a greater percentage of poor-quality hay than of good-quality hay.

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