Have you ever thought about how net-wrap and storage options can make a big difference in the cost of your baled hay? Bob Schultheis, the natural resource engineering specialist from the Webster County University of Missouri Extension Center in Marshfield, Mo., can tell you the exact specifics.
This information is also useful when planning to purchase hay. Considering what wrap is on the hay, the size of the bale and where the hay has been stored before you buy it will help determine prior damage you might be purchasing.
Schultheis shows net wrap only costs 40 to 50 cents more per bale than plastic twine yet installs quicker and saves labor and fuel (10 vs. 60 seconds). It sheds water two times better than twine (based on 3” twine spacing). It helps to hold the bale shape better and is less prone to wind damage and bottom rotting. It can also reduce lost hay if the bale is handled often. It may even save time at feeding, depending on mud and ice cover.
There are several reasons for extra damage to outside-stored round bales including: those less dense will squat more, allowing more moisture wicking from the ground. If they are stored under trees there will be less drying and give no protection from heavy rains. If they are stored on flat ground there will be less water drainage. If the rounded sides are touching there are more catch areas for snow and rain. The smaller the diameter of the bale of hay, the more spoilage is likely to occur. For example, a 4×4’ bale at 460 pounds with 4” of top spoilage damages 31 percent of the hay. A 5.5×5.5’ bale weighing 1,200 pounds with 4” of top spoilage damages 23 percent of the bale. Total spoilage loss from two of the smaller bales is about equal to spoilage loss of one of the larger bales.
Schultheis suggested if you must store your hay outside uncovered, you should run your rows north to south, and space your rows at least 3 feet apart for air circulation. Use a sloped site for water drainage and butt the bales end-to-end if they are the same diameter. If unequal diameter, separate them. In addition, Schultheis said you should reduce ground contact as much as possible using pallets, poles, railroad ties or net wrap.
The better option is to pyramid stack the bales on a rock base. This system uses end ropes tied to a post under the stack with rebar T’s in grommets holding the sides of reinforced plastic or canvas tarpaulin over the pyramid stacked hay. The ground should slope away from the stack. There should be a 4”-8” thick base of 2”-4” diameter rock as a pad to prevent moisture wicking from the ground. Maintenance on rock and tarp is minimal for three years. Approximate cost (based on 2010 costs) is $4,090 for enough rock pad and tarp to store and cover 200 5.5’ x 5.5’ bales weighing 1,200 pounds each (120 tons). This method can achieve the same minimal storage loss as a hay barn.
The biggest factor to consider in building a barn is the price or value of the hay. How much loss are you incurring now by storing outdoors? How long would it take you to make up that loss in hay by storing it indoors? The higher the price of hay, the shorter the time it would take to offset loss by building the barn. The annual cost of a barn (based on a 10-year life expectancy) is only $3,300-$4,000 dollars.     
For more information about the Regional Hay School contact your local MU Extension Center.


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