After a wet spring and delayed hay harvest, a Purdue Extension beef specialist says it is vitally important for beef producers to store hay properly to reduce nutrient loss.
Much of the hay harvested now will be used as a main feed source this coming winter, said Ron Lemenager. Improper storage can lead to losses in weight or dry matter, as well as the nutrients required by animals, such as soluble energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
"In an ideal world, producers would store hay bales inside," he said. "But, with most producers using large, round bales, that's often not possible."
For outdoor storage, Lemenager said protecting hay quality starts with baling. The moisture level of the crop should be 15 percent to 18 percent. Anything above 22 percent poses a spontaneous combustion risk from bacterial growth.
The same is true for bales with internal temperatures approaching 170 degrees, so producers making wet hay need to monitor bale temperatures, especially when hay is stored inside.
He also pointed out that farmers need to bale hay tightly and uniformly because those bales shed water much better than loose, dipped or coned bales.
And if using twine, farmers need to put enough on — every 6-8 inches — to securely hold bales together. Another option is to use net wrap instead of twine.
Once harvest and baling are complete, producers need to consider a storage site.
"It's important for the storage site to be well-drained," Lemenager said. "Farmers can use 1-2 inches of crushed rock to prevent moisture wicking into the bottom of bales. They also can store bales on top of old poles, tires or pallets to minimize ground contact."
Hay should not be stored in shaded areas, he said, and unless stored inside, bales should never be stacked because too much moisture gets trapped and causes spoilage.
The best way to store hay outdoors is to tightly pack bales end-to-end in a north-south orientation so the morning sun dries one side of the bales and the afternoon sun dries the other, Lemenager said.
Keeping hay in the best possible condition is especially important this year, because the delayed first cutting means farmers are starting out with a lower-quality crop.
Should the wet spring be followed by a dry period, producers need to make sure they minimize loss from the first cutting because second and third cuttings may be lower yielding or non-existent.
"Keeping what we've got is important," Lemenager said.