Managing hay properly could save livestock producers as much as 25 percent of their hay investment, possibly as much as $36 per bale fed.  Depending on what dollar value you place on your hay and how you are storing and feeding it, you could very easily be losing just that much with every bale you feed. 

It is hard to believe just how much volume of hay is in the outer layer of each round bale.  Traditionally we tend to sacrifice this outer layer and accept that loss as a normal part of feeding.  However, if that outer sacrifice layer is 4 inches on a 5 foot by 5foot round bale we just lost 24 percent of the bale. The percentage of moisture in hay at storage directly affects its nutrient and dry matter losses. The higher the moisture content at storage, the greater the losses. 

High moisture conditions allow hay to heat up, which causes losses. The degree of heating that develops during storage depends on the moisture of the hay and its density, size and shape in storage. Tight round bales suffer fewer losses than loose ones.

The main factor in controlling nutrient loss or retention in storage is exposure to moisture. Research has shown that a firm round bale stored outside for one year loses 22 percent of its dry matter. When stored outside for two years, the same bale loses 25 percent dry matter — meaning that only 75 percent of its original weight remains for feeding. The most nutrient losses occur on the outer portion of the bale.

In a study in Overton, Texas, large round bales of coastal bermudagrass hay were stored for 112 days. During that period, the protein content dropped by almost 2 percent in the middle of the bale and by 14 percent on the outside. The digestible dry matter decreased 11 percent in the middle and 32 percent on the outer surface. 

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A round bale’s greatest loss occurs at the bottom where it touches the soil. Purdue University conducted a study of round bales stored inside, outside on the ground or outside on crushed rocks and found bales stored inside retained 92 percent of original weight, bales stored outside on crushed rock retained 85 percent of original weight, and bales stored outside on the ground retained only 76 percent of original weight.