4 Best Tips for Storing Hay

Tips to preserve the quality of round and square bales.

By Tharran Gaines | Photos By Jamie Cole


Store bales indoors if possible.

Store bales indoors if possible.

1) Store them indoors if possible. Nobody knows that better than Jerrold Siemens, who operates Siefor Farms, Ltd., with his sons, Adrian and Chris, near Morris, Manitoba. Together they produce approximately 900 acres of commercial alfalfa and nearly 50,000 bales of straw with five Hesston® by Massey Ferguson Model 2170 3 x 3 large square balers. As a general rule, the Siemens bale their alfalfa as soon as it starts into the bud stage, then store the bales in two giant storage sheds to preserve color and quality.

2) Bale at the right moisture level. “Each of our balers has a moisture sensor in the bale chamber that is monitored from the tractor cab,” says Adrian Siemens, noting that they try to bale at moisture levels below 15%. “But we carry a moisture probe in each tractor as well. Once we manually probe a bale, we know where it’s at in relationship to the monitor and can keep an eye on it the rest of the day.”

3) Leave space for bales to breathe. “Generally, we start adding preservative when moisture levels get much above 15 to 16%,” says Chris. “In addition, we try to leave a space between each stack of bales when we put them in the shed. That allows the air to move around the bales so they maintain their green color. Obviously, if we used preservative, they were baled a little damp, so they need space to breathe.”

University Extension specialists also recommend leaving a minimum of 2 feet of space between the roof of a building and the top surface of stacked round or square bales for added circulation.

4) Keep a log of inventory. Even bales stored indoors suffer some dry matter loss due to humidity and microbial action. So it’s important to separate cuttings and to know which hay is the oldest … and be able to get to it, rather than having it trapped in the back of the barn.

Lawrence Drost, who owns a commercial hay operation near Hartley, Texas, tests every cutting and sells the crop based on relative feed value. He also marks each stack by field number and cutting; hence, a stack marked D32 would be from the second cutting on field D3.

“I also store everything in a barn,” he says. “I’ve tried tarps in the field, but tarps don’t last long with our winds. We were constantly fighting the elements until we went to enclosed storage.”

Quality Loss Outside

According to university studies, dry matter losses in hay bales stored outdoors can reach 50% or more, depending on bale type, bale quality, storage conditions and length in storage. Even 2 inches of weathered hay on a round bale can represent more than 10% of the bale’s dry matter.