For Release November 12, 2002

Donít Waste Hay

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Hay is a valuable commodity and yet many producers still treat it like dirt! Oh, they donít intend to, itís just that they handle the hay like they always have, and at the time it seems like there is so much hay that a little hay here or there on the ground doesnít seem like much. But the truth is that between storage loss and feeding loss, you can wind up throwing anywhere from one fourth to one half of that hay away.

Letís start with storage. Most of my discussion will pertain to hay in big round bales since that is how most producers handle it. Ideally, every bale of hay would be under a roof until fed. This isnít an ideal world. Much of our hay is stored outside. Weathering damage is usually limited to the outer 4 to 8 inches of a large round bale. This doesnít sound like much until you stop to realize that about one third of the hay volume is in the outer 4 inches of that bale and one half the volume is in the outer 8 to 12 inches.

In a nutshell, put those bales where they will not stand in water. A 3 to 4 inch layer of crushed rock is good to keep bales off the ground. Find a nice elevated location and stack the bales tightly end to end in rows that run north and south and are about 3 feet apart. North and south running rows allows the sun to shine on all sides and dry them out quicker after snow and rain. Donít stack them on each other as this creates places where rain and snow can collect.

Some producers like to put one bale on end and another flat on top of it. This can work, but it becomes very important to have these up on crushed rock or the bottom bale just acts like a wick and soaks up moisture off the ground. If you use a lot of hay, you may want to look into a pole shed. Given the price of hay and how much quantity and quality you can save with a roof, you may find this very cost effective. Storage losses for outdoor storage will often run 10% to 15% and that can be cut in half with covered storage.

When it comes time to feed that hay, losses can really escalate. There is no reason why feeding losses should exceed 10% and realistically they should be down around 5% with large round or large square bales. Unfortunately, if you just take one of those large round bales and roll it out in place, you can easily lose 25% to 45% of that hay to trampling. The trick is to use a rack. The large round bale feeders are going to cost a couple hundred dollars each. With those sort of wastage figures, you can pay for a feeder in the first dozen bales or so!

Once youíve got those bale feeders, move them around the pasture. Every two or three weeks move them to a different location. There are two simple reasons: pollutants and flies. The longer you leave the feeders in one place the more manure lands on the soil and the more it gets worked into the ground by hoof action. The more concentrated this is, the greater the chance of getting a runoff event that will put nitrates and bacteria and other such stuff into a stream. Weíve also found that stable fly populations have exploded in pastures over the past 20 years. Why? Because they are breeding, in very high numbers, in these round bale feeding areas. Spreading the feeding areas around, reduces the number of flies that will be produced next spring.

So hay feeding management is very critical. It not only can save you money, it can also reduce pollution potential, and hopefully reduce the number of stable flies in your pasture! Fewer flies, less annoyance to the cattle and the more time theyíll spend grazing, which should lead to more profit. Think about it!


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