As the diet of choice for most horses, hay is a valuable commodity among horse owners. We research the best suppliers and panic when our stockpile runs too low. But if we care about our hay so much, why does it often go to waste? It's all too common for horse owners to lose entire bales due to hay storage mistakes. The way that you store your hay can also affect its nutritional value, safety for your horse, and the overall safety for your barn.
Are you storing your hay properly? Check out these seven rules for proper hay storage to find out.
Store Hay Away from Your Barn
It’s been a longstanding tradition to store hay in the hayloft above horse barns. The truth is, however, haylofts are a dangerous practice. Hay is highly flammable, and if a bale of hay molds internally, it can build up enough heat to self combust. When that happens, fire will spread from the hayloft to the rest of the barn.
It’s far safer to store your hay in a separate building away from your barn. The building shouldn't leak and should have decent ventilation. To make your life easier, you can bring a few bales into the barn every couple of days as needed. This way you protect your barn, your horses, and your hay supply.
Store Hay On Pallets
Never store hay directly on the floor or the ground. Doing this restricts air from circulating beneath the hay. Moisture will seep up from the damp ground and ruin the entire bale. By using pallets, you allow ventilation beneath the hay and prevent excess moisture.
Don't be fooled into thinking you can store hay safely as long as it's on a concrete floor. Concrete flooring sweats during the spring and fall, and that moisture will end up in your bales. It's always best to use pallets regardless of the season or the type of flooring.
Alternate Hay Orientation
When you stack hay, alternate the orientation of the bales. Stack the first layer so that the long ends of the bales face up. Leave a few inches of space between each bale to prevent them from packing too tightly. When you stack the next layer on top, make sure the string side faces up. Continue alternating how you stack each layer so that air can better circulate throughout the pile. This pattern ties the entire stack together while keeping things neat and allowing for ventilation.
If you're stacking large round bales, the best practice is to line them up end to end as close as possible. If you need multiple lines, keep each row at least three feet apart.
Stack Hay Safely
Hay stacks become dangerous when they're too tall and poorly arranged. It's easy for bales to fall or for the entire stack to tumble. In order to keep yourself and others safe when working with stacked hay, it's important to follow a simple rule. When stacking, the bottom layers should always be wider than the top. With each level, you should stack fewer bales and arrange them so no bale is hanging over the edge.
Essentially, you want to create a pyramid-type figure so that the stack is stable. This allows you to safely climb the stack if you need to, and there's less risk of the stack collapsing.
Get Rid of Moldy Bales
If you come across bales which are unusually heavy, they may be moldy in the center. Break these bales apart. If you find moldy bales, don’t just set them aside. It's important to get rid of them entirely. Moldy hay can be composted or used in gardening, but it shouldn’t stay in your barn.
Accidentally feeding a horse moldy hay can have serious consequences. It can cause colic and other complications due to toxins called mycotoxins. Always be on the lookout for mold in your hay. Proper hay storage will help prevent mold, but it still happens. If you find mold, evaluate the conditions to try and prevent it from happening again.
Keep Hay Protected
Always try to store hay in a building where it will be protected from both sun and moisture. Both of these factors can damage hay and leave it unusable. Before you bring it in, check the ground for dark areas that suggest new roof leaks. Even a little bit of water can be disastrous for hay storage.
If you have no choice but to store your hay outside, find a way to keep it covered. A carport will work, or you can use plastic sheeting or tarps to protect against sun and moisture. Be sure to check on your hay frequently to make sure wind or animals don't disturb the tarp.
Store Old Hay Up Front
When you get a new hay shipment in, make sure that you stack it so that you can still easily access the old hay. It's more work, but it will save you money. You always want to feed the old hay first so it doesn't go bad. Plan out the orientation of your hay stacks carefully to allow easy access to the old stuff.
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As an added note, it's also good practice to feed a bit of the old and new hay simultaneously to help your horse’s digestive system get used to the new hay.
By taking measures to store your hay properly, you can reduce waste and keep your barn and horses safer.