By BREANNA PYE
Everyone wants to have good, quality hay and that’s the goal of summer. However, past getting good hay up, not many people consider the way they are storing it and how to do so in a manner that efficiently uses the hay with as little waste as possible.
If you are going to take the time and effort into making a good, quality hay, it should be important to make sure it’s not getting wasted.
Some farms have loss rates of more than 10 percent of the cost of their production. Hay quality losses can happen several ways, including through storage losses and the weathering process, both causing degradation of the forage, which in turn causes, dry matter losses.
Some dry matter losses occur naturally through plant respiration and are essentially unavoidable even when hay is baled at low moisture levels less than twenty percent. At higher moisture levels (more than 20 percent) these natural losses can be greater due to microbial activity, with fungi being the biggest contributor.
Dry matter losses can continue through weathering during outside storage.
Weathering lowers forage quality, reduces palatability and intake and increases feeding losses through animal refusal. Leaching is the main cause of weathering through the dissolving and removal of nutrients.
By the passage of rainwater over the surface, this happens at a greater rate, as the nutrients are more digestible. Most bales are stored outside on the ground and the weather process begins slowly but increases rapidly. Once leaching begins to occur, the weathered hay becomes more and more easily penetrated by rain and doesn’t dry as rapidly.
Moisture levels continue to increase and moldy layers will begin to form. To illustrate just how much water a bale can take in, the average rainfall in our region is at least 40 inches and a 6-foot by 6-foot bale will receive about 22 gallons of water for each inch of rain.
This results in a bale taking in an average of 880 gallons of water per bale. Since outdoor storage is a necessity for most people, there are some strategies to overcome the challenges of storing hay outside.
More than half of losses associated with outside storage occur where the bale sits on the soil. This is especially true when dry hay comes in contact with damp soil.
If possible, store hay off the ground by setting bales on whatever you can just to get them off the ground a few inches. Some people use pallets, telephone polls, scrap pipe or build a rock bed for the hay to be stored on.
Additionally, make sure that you are storing hay in a well-drained area with sides not touching, facing north to south and at least three feet between rows. This is especially important if contact with the soil can’t be avoided.
To properly store hay may take some time and investment, but the costs associated with storage losses will increase the amount and quality of hay needed. If you are lowering the quality of your hay and then losing even more, you may require additional supplementation if your supply is going to run short.
Losing 15-20 percent of your dry matter will require you to have an increase of 15-20 percent in your supply. You may be able to make up the cost of supplementation by using preventive maintenance.
These efforts may even last over several years and should help you be more economical and more efficient.
Furthermore, even if hay is stored in the most efficient way possible, losses can also occur through feeding methods as little as 2 percent or as much as 60 percent or more. This includes trampling, leaf shatter, physical deterioration, fecal contamination and refusal of poor quality hay.
Reduce feeding losses by storing hay close the area where it is going to be fed. Feeding in only one area can be convenient and will reduce killing the grass in multiple areas but it can attribute to destruction of the area by causing muddy conditions, soil compaction and ruts.
If you want to confine feeding to one area only, creating a concrete or gravel pad will minimize some of the problems associated with a heavy use area on grass. No matter what your feeding area is like, feed lower quality hay first to put down a base for further feeding.
Moving the feeding area around on grass can help spread manure more uniformly over the field and can increase the soil fertility of that area.
Also, if you are not using hay feeders, only offer enough hay to be eaten in a short period of time and force animals to clean up what they have before putting out new.
Feeding priority can also help minimize losses. Know what hay to feed when is important to know so that you are feeding the hay that is best correlated with the animals you are feeding.
The only way to determine your hay quality is to have it tested. A forage test can give you all the compositional details of your hay so you can make feeding decisions based on it. You will want to save your best hay for lactating cows and bred animals, instead of feeding it to your dry cows and bulls.
Developing a strategy to reduce hay losses and use your hay in the most efficient way possible can be critical for any livestock producer. If you find yourself wasting hay, take time to consider other methods of storage and ways you can improve your operation so that you can make the best of the hay you have available.
Additionally, hay quality information will allow you to more effective feed what you have, ensuring that your animals requiring higher nutrition are getting what they need. By learning how hay feeding and quality can affect you economically, you will be able to make your production more efficient.
(Breanna Pye is a Noble County Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator.)