Rectangular Bale Storage Tips

Whether you call ’em square or rectangular, big bales need protection during storage.

By Tharran E. Gaines

Back in the days when everyone had livestock and a traditional barn, hay was stored under nearly perfect conditions. It was loaded into the hayloft, where it was not only protected from the weather, but stored on a solid floor with ventilation beneath it.

Unfortunately, barns have all but disappeared from most farms and one couldn’t get big square bales into a hayloft anyway. The principle remains the same, though. The best way to store big rectangular bales is under cover with some kind of moisture protection beneath them.

While big square bales don’t have the moisture-shedding wrap found on round bales, the pre-compression chamber used on Hesston by Massey Ferguson® big bales does result in a much denser package than other bale types. Most studies show that the density of an intermediate sized square bale (3 ft. by 4 ft.) is about 54% more dense than the average small square bale. This higher density does, however, predispose the large square bale to heating, dry matter loss and forage quality deterioration during storage if harvest moisture is over 15%.

Without protection, big square bales can also absorb moisture from above or below. In a University of Minnesota study conducted in 2004, researchers compared storage losses and forage quality differences for both big square bales and round bales in four different scenarios from September through May.
•    In a pole barn with a north wall.
•    Outside on gravel and covered with a commercial hay tarp.
•    Outside on gravel and uncovered.
•    Directly on the ground (sod) and uncovered.

Large square bales were stored in piles of 11 bales in a 3 x 3 stack with two bales covering the cracks on top. For both round and rectangular bales, the bottom bales stored uncovered on sod were re-wetted from 18 to 32%, high enough to cause significant spoilage by mid-June. Moreover, the bales stored on sod and uncovered had a dry matter loss of 11.2%—the equivalent of losing more than one bale for every 10—compared to a 2.3% loss from bales in the barn.

“The most eye-opening part of this trial came when the hay was sold,” says Craig Saxe, Juneau County Agricultural Agent with University of Wisconsin Extension. “Inside/covered bales sold for $75 per ton, while the uncovered bales sold for $45 per ton. For this study, that amounted to an $1,800 total difference on a relatively small number of bales,” he adds, pointing out that hay is selling for even more today. “It’s worth noting that the same price was received for hay stored on gravel and covered as that which was stored in the barn. This shows that hay storage systems don’t have to be fancy to be effective.”

Larry Krepline, a commercial hay producer from Reedsville, Wisconsin, says he stores as many bales as possible in a three-sided shed, arranged in rows by cutting. Everything else is covered with hay tarps and marketed at the earliest opportunity.

“The location where you put the tarp-covered bales is key,” he insists. “It needs to be on concrete or pallets on an area that is well drained. I have some concrete pads that are sloped just for that purpose,” he adds. “However, I have put some on pallets when everything else was full. You just have to spend the time or money to do it right and make sure the tarps are in good condition and tight.”

<< Read the full article, “Storing Hay”