Results indicate that producers should store bales in well-drained areas where moisture does not accumulate and water will run off, preferably in a barn.  In fact, storing round bales in a barn can pay for the barn.  At $100, hay producers lose $16 per bale by storing outside versus inside.  Assuming you can build a 40-foot by 100-foot by 16-foot barn for around $25,000, a 5-year note at 6 percent interest would require about $6,000 annual payment.  This size of barn should store around 420 5-foot by 5-foot bales, saving $6,720 per year in hay loss over storing round bales outdoors.   

 If you store round bales outside, make sure they are stored on well drained areas, up slope, in a north – south configuration with at least two feet between rows of bales. This will maximize sun exposure and drying after rainfall. 

The amount of hay lost during feeding depends on the feeding system and on the amount allocated per animal per feeding time. An efficient feeding system should keep losses to a minimum. Feeding losses are caused mostly by trampling, leaf shatter, chemical and physical deterioration, fecal contamination, over consumption and refusal.

To some extent, you can control losses by proper management. Management decisions include feeding method, intervals between feedings, amount of hay fed at one time, weather conditions and the number of animals fed.

The largest hay losses occur when large hay stacks are fed without animal restrictions. The lowest hay losses result from hand feeding livestock the amount they will consume at one time. However, the labor expense for the big hay stack is lower, and hand feeding requires extensive labor. The most economical feeding system is somewhere in between.

When feeding large round bales, you must use some restriction barrier to limit animal access. Barriers include electric wires, feeding racks, panels, wagons, gates and other items. Feeding racks are now available in various sizes and shapes.

Research conducted at Overton show that feeding large round bales free choice resulted in a 24 percent hay loss. Feeding identical bales in a feed rack cut the loss to 4 percent. (Standard small bales sustain a 6 percent loss when fed free choice and a 3 percent loss when some type of restricted access is used.) This 24 percent loss from free-choice feeding justifies a feeding rack to conserve feed and money.

Using our $100 hay example again, feeding in a rack saves $20 per bale over feeding hay free choice. Therefore, if we convinced you to store round bales in a barn and feed in a rack, rather than store outside and feed free choice your feed cost just dropped by $36 per bale.  For more information on hay feeding and storage refer to AgriLife Extension publication E-170 “Making, Storing, and Feeding Hay,” or contact our office at 361.767.5223 or on the web at   


Also of interest on Southwest Farm Press:

Drought limits 2013 hay supplies

Pasture and hay conditions key to beef herd recovery

Producers should be aware of potential for hay fires