Proper storage of hay between harvest and feeding is critical for preserving nutrients in the hay and assuring that you have high quality hay to feed your cattle when they need it most during the winter months. The nutrient requirements of cattle are more likely to be met with quality hay that is well stored, according to Mark L. Wahlberg, Extension Animal Scientist, Virginia Tech.
Small square bales, weighing from 40 to 70 pounds, should normally be stored in a barn or other structure with a roof to minimize dry matter losses. Due to the size, shape, and weight of large round bales, storage options are often limited and these may be stored outside.
The outside portion of the big, round bales is most susceptible to weather damage. to protect the hay from substantial loss, water infiltration from the top, sides, and bottom must be prevented. One key to reducing hay storage loss is to break bale contact with the ground, says Wahlberg. He suggests using a gravel base or stacking bales on pallets, poles, or old tires to reduce the risk of moisture coming up from the ground into the bales. Plastic caps, or other means of protecting the top of round bales also helps to reduce losses from moisture.
Wahlberg says that reducing losses from weather damage makes the hay more acceptable to cattle. “Weather-damaged hay is not readily consumed by cattle, and excessive feeding losses can occur as a result of their refusal to eat the damaged hay,” he says.
Round bales that have been covered are just as readily consumed by cattle as is hay stored inside, Wahlberg points out. “Hay digestibility and dry matter losses are very similar for both inside and outside-covered storage techniques.”
Wahlberg also recommends giving cattle only as much hay as they will consume in one day to reduce feeding loss and waste. “One way to do this is to match bale size to daily cow requirements.” He cites this example: A bale that weighs 750 pounds when it is fed contains enough hay for 30 cows if they require 25 pounds per head per day. If one 750-pound bale is unrolled daily, 30 cows will consume the entire bale with very little waste. However, if a 750-pound bale is unrolled daily for 20 cows, there will be 250 pounds of uneaten hay that will be trampled, spoiled and wasted.