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Storing Hay - Common Problems to Watch For


Did you know hay is the most commonly used stored feed on livestock and horse farms throughout the United States? Whether you harvest and bale your own or purchase from another farmer, you need to properly store the hay in order to protect your investment. When protected from the elements, hay can be stored indefinitely, with little nutrient loss.

There are several items to be aware of when storing hay, not only to maintain the quality of the hay, but also to prevent threats to your livestock and horses such as mold and fire.

Limit Moisture Content - Moist hay is a problem waiting to happen.  Ideally, hay should have a maximum moisture content of 10-15%. Southern States® Feed Sales and Technical Representative David Baber suggests applying a mold inhibitor such as Early Bale (Propionic Acid) when your hay is wetter than 15% moisture. When used at the time of baling, propionic acid helps control yeast and mold growth.

Storage Options - "The cost to produce good quality hay is too expensive to let a sizeable portion be lost to Mother Nature," explains Harry Walker, also a Feed Sales and Technical Representative for Southern States. 

It is very important to store your hay either inside a permanent structure or under cover. "Outside storage can result in damage because rain will penetrate the bale and increase moisture causing losses from the top of the bale," says Baber. Additionally, if you store hay on the ground without protection from the soil below, moisture can come up from the bottom of the bale creating mold and deterioration of hay.

Moldy Hay - Do not feed moldy hay to livestock or horses. Molds can produce mycotoxins which lead to a whole host of problems. These issues can include: lower feed intake, metabolic problems, abortions in pregnant animals, respiratory problems, digestive upsets, poor weight gains, low milk production, lower disease resistance, reduced performance and the list goes on and on. To prevent mold growth, do not store hay that contains excess moisture. "If hay is baled and stored dry, it should not mold," states Walker.

Spontaneous Combustion - Fire as a result of stored hay is a farm/barn owner's worst nightmare. Hay that is baled too wet or too green is especially at risk for spontaneous combustion. Wet hay allows microbial growth, as the organisms grow they produce heat, which in turn can start a fire. Minimize your risk by storing moist hay outside of your barn for three weeks or until the danger of combustion has diminished. Additionally practice "loose stacking" to allow bales to get more air movement through them and encourage ventilation.

By following the advice above, you will protect your investment in both your hay and livestock. Have questions about hay storage? Visit your local Southern States store.


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