The most common hay storage method for large round bales is outside on the ground. This method requires no investment but leaves hay out in the weather, resulting in the largest possible dry matter loss. Storage losses in Kentucky can run up to 30 percent or more during a normal year.
Dry matter loss can be reduced by as much as 38 percent by breaking contact between the bale and the ground. Storing hay on a gravel pad would break this contact. This is still a rather inexpensive proposition, and the potential savings in dry matter loss are significant. Additional dry matter loss savings can be achieved by covering these bales with a simple reusable tarp while on the gravel pad.
Another option available to hay producers is the plastic wrapping of bales stored on the ground. This option has the potential to reduce dry matter loss to single digits. However, the range of dry matter loss may be wide, as holes or wrapping problems can greatly increase the loss. Disposal of the wrap can be an issue.
The final option available to the hay producer is storing hay under a roof. This option requires the largest capital investment and most likely will be the most expensive on a per bale basis. However, it minimizes the potential loss and may have other uses when hay is not being stored. New structures such as hoops are becoming more common because they are cheaper to construct and result in about the same dry matter loss as a conventional shed. Producers considering storage under a roof should explore all options to determine the most cost-effective structure. As hay has become more expensive, the benefits of improved hay storage have increased.
The Adair County Soil Conservation and Water District are currently accepting applications for cost-share on hay storage structures. For details and guidelines, visit their office at 965 Campbellsville Rd. in Columbia.