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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #209961

Title: The economics of hay storage

item Rotz, Clarence - Al

Submitted to: The Forage Leader
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/30/2007
Publication Date: 4/2/2007
Citation: Rotz, C.A. 2007. The economics of hay storage. The Forage Leader. Available:

Interpretive Summary: An interpretive summary is not required.

Technical Abstract: When it comes to storing hay, there are many options available. This is particularly true for hay in large round bales. A shed provides the best protection from the weather, but it also requires a relatively large investment. Setting bales outside without any protection requires little investment, but dry matter and nutrient losses can be large. There are also other options such as stacking hay under a tarp or wrapping individual bales. When determining the most economical way to store hay, a number of factors should be considered. The value of hay quality depends upon the type of animal fed and the amount fed in their diet. When feeding stocker beef animals, forage quality is not nearly as important as when feeding high producing dairy cows. Likewise, when a relatively small amount of hay is fed along with silage, primarily to add roughage for improved rumination, the nutrient levels in the hay are relatively unimportant. The way hay is fed also makes a difference. When animals have free choice to the hay, they tend to waste more when the hay is of lower quality from outdoor storage. When hay is chopped and fed in a mixed ration, there is less opportunity for waste, even when the quality is not that high. Bale size is also a factor. Because most of the loss occurs on the outside of bales, larger diameter bales stored outdoors loose a smaller portion of their dry matter and nutrients than smaller diameter bales. Our analyses have shown that for the long-term, the investment in a shed normally will be returned through the reduction in dry matter loss and maintenance of hay quality. If the focus is on the current year or just getting through the next couple years, then outside storage with minimal protection can be the most economical route. When storing hay outdoors, bales should be set in a well drained area. A small investment in crushed stone, old tires, or some other means of separating them from damp soil will be returned through reduced loss in the bottom of the bale.