Round Bale Storage Tips
A few simple steps can easily cut dry matter loss in half.
By Tharran Gaines
Ever since round balers were introduced in the early 1970s, one of the selling points—besides the low labor demand—has always been that round bales can be stored outdoors. And that is true to a greater extent than it is with square bales of any size. However, like everything else, there are a lot of variables to consider when determining how best to store round bales. Is the crop a legume or grass? What kind of weather conditions are the bales subjected to? Where is the storage site located?
Depending on the size of the bale, anywhere from one-third to almost one-half of the hay is located in the outside six inches of the bale—the portion most susceptible to weather damage. Hence, to protect the hay from substantial loss, water infiltration from the top, sides and bottom must be prevented.
With that in mind, Dr. Don Ball, professor and Extension Forage Crops Agronomist at Auburn University and Raymond L. Huhnke, Extension agricultural engineer at Oklahoma State University, offer a number of tips for bale quality preservation.
• Inside storage is always best, regardless of the type of hay package. Legume hays, such as alfalfa, are also more susceptible to damage than most grass hays. Plus, alfalfa is much more valuable and can justify the cost of covered storage much quicker. Dry matter losses in round bales stored up to nine months in an enclosed barn should be less than 2%.
• When baling, try to make round bales as tight as possible for maximum water shedding. Consider, too, that large-stemmed crops, such as pearl millet, sorghum-Sudan and crop residue do not form a tight bale, and are easily penetrated by rain.
• If you are storing hay outside, select a site that is located in an open, well-drained, sunny area convenient to feeding areas. If placed on a hill, rows of bales should run up and down the slope.
• Eliminate contact between the bale and the ground. Otherwise, as much as 12 inches of the bottom of a bale can be lost through moisture absorption resulting from the wicking action. To best protect bales, place them on old tires, railroad ties, crushed rock or a concrete pad.
• In most areas, bales should be stored in rows, butted end-to-end, and oriented in a north/south direction. It’s also important to leave a space of 18 to 36 inches between rows to permit sunlight penetration and airflow, which will allow the area to dry faster after a rain.
• Don’t stack bales on top of each other unless the entire stack is to be covered with a tarp.
• If possible, cover bales to protect the top and sides. In this case, it’s better to stack bales. A single bale can require as much as 63 square feet to cover its top. If bales 5-feet in diameter by 5-feet long are stacked three high, the size of the covering can be as low as 13 square-feet per bale. In university studies, round bales that were both covered and elevated suffered about the same amount of dry matter loss as bales stored “under roof.”