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Winter-proof hay

On my way to town last week, I drove by a house that has a sparkling new, green riding lawn mower sitting in the snow by the driveway. It’s fairly common to see motorized equipment just sitting out in all kinds of weather – not covered.

Winter-proof hay

The right way: sloped rows

On my way to town last week, I drove by a house that has a sparkling new, green riding lawn mower sitting in the snow by the driveway. It’s fairly common to see motorized equipment just sitting out in all kinds of weather – not covered.

I frown when I see farm machinery like balers and combines parked outdoors all winter. And when I see round bales of hay stacked in a pyramid and not covered with a tarp, I can’t believe that a farmer would go to all the bother and expense of making hay and then letting the rain ruin it.

I’ve been making and storing round bales of hay since they were first introduced in the early 1980s. Hay is best when it’s stored inside, but if that’s not possible there are ways to store it outside that work quite well. Rainfall soaking right through the bales can be avoided.

Just recently I saw a huge pyramid stack in a field (three bales on the bottom, then two bales and one on top) and behind this stack was another one from previous years that had sagged in and was obviously rotting.

The pyramid is easy to make and very common. You grab a bale with the front end loader prong, run over to the stack, tip it in, go grab another one, run over to the stack, tip it in. It’s very handy and it doesn’t take all the yard space up to do it.

But if stacked bales are left uncovered, rain or moisture that lands on the top bale of the pyramid runs down between the bales into the middle layer. The same thing happens when moisture from the middle layer moves down to the bottom layer.

Quite often I see hundreds of round bales stored in a flat area of a field. If the farmer doesn’t use or sell the hay, he’ll stick more in the following year. That hay may sit there for years – and rot there. It’s unbelievable!

Tips and tricks
This is my rule of thumb for making and storing hay: to reduce storage losses, make the bale dense (very tight) and evenly formed. This encourages rainfall to run off rather than settle in depressions and soak into the bale. Store bales on a well-drained site (a slope) with air spaces between bales to allow drying after rain. Do not stack any kind of bales unless they are covered with plastic.

Move round bales to a storage location soon as possible after baling. The area should be on a slight hill or slope. Thatch formation is what helps keep moisture out.

Put the bales in long north-south rows. The north-south orientation allows maximum drying. Once hay is baled, moisture is its enemy. Run the rows up and down the slope, not across.

Rows stacked across the slope will trap moisture as it moves downslope.

Butt the bales end to end. Tightly! End to end bales will thatch as a single roll and reduce the loss on the ends.

Leave space between the rows of rolls, preferably three feet. Again, this allows hay to dry out after dew or rain fall.

Don’t store round rolls under trees. I see this occasionally. Trees prevent drying.

And finally, make sure bale stacks are not in areas subject to flooding.

Another popular method is to stack round bales in a mushroom shape (one bale with the butt down and the second bale over the top like a T) and that works well if the bottom bale is a smaller diameter so the top bale sheds the rain completely away from the butt bale. Making a smaller bottom bale means the operator has to make two different size bales. If both bales are the same size the sides of bottom T bale will have moisture fall on it.

Farmers have a lot of machinery and equipment to look after and store inside. It shouldn’t be that hard for the average person to park a lawn mower inside or cover it, should it?  

About the Author
Winter-proof hay

Meindert VanderGalien, Columnist

Meindert was born in The Netherlands in 1949. The family immigrated to Canada (The Ottawa Valley) in 1953. He’s a life-long cattle farmer, enjoys traveling, reading, writing, gardening, bush work in the winter cutting firewood and country life. He’s been a columnist since 1987 writing for many newspapers and is currently the bulletin editor at Hebron CRC in Renfrew, where he is a faithful member.