Storing Hay for Horses
Square Bales of Hay are Easy to Handle
Waste Not Want Not
Is hay made of gold these days? Gas prices and drought can skyrocket the cost of feeding horses quality hay. If they haven't done it before, many horse owners plan to buy their hay for the next year early to avoid a winter of paying inflated prices. This can be a good plan only if you have a place to store a large quantity of hay.
You have shopped around for the best quality hay available to feed your horse. It was harvested at the right time, it is leafy, green and smells wonderful. But, you have to store your hay properly to insure it remains good until the last bale is used. Not stored properly, the hay's quality can suffer even to the point of being unfit for use.
To plan for hay storage there are several points to consider: keeping the hay out of the weather, a dry floor surface, blocking sunlight, adequate space, and easy access.
To keep your hay protected from the elements will require a sturdy shelter with a roof that doesn't leak, and good ventilation. It is not recommended that you store hay in the same building that houses the horses, even though it is very tempting to use overhead space as a hayloft. Hay is highly flammable and if stored with too much moisture content it could even spontaneously combust. It is suggested that the stable and hay shelter be separate with at least a fifty-foot buffer zone.
If the storage area is open on the ends, or it's a shed with only a roof, cover the hay with a tarp to keep out the weather and the light. Sunlight will bleach the hay, causing it to lose as much as twenty percent of its nutritional value, especially vitamin A and protein.
When you choose the location where you'll store your hay, keep in mind accessibility. It must be near a road or driveway that a large truck can navigate, with room to back up and turn around. The opening to the shelter must be wide and tall enough for the hay to be unloaded easily. Even with a small load of hay, you will not want to carry it one bale at a time from the truck to the shelter for even a few yards. Even with one horse, if you buy enough hay to last through the winter, it is going to require at least 600 cubic feet per ton. One horse will eat about two tons in six months.
Drainage is another important criteria to consider when choosing the site of your hay shelter. Choose an elevated site to prevent rain or melted snow running into the shelter; getting the hay wet from the bottom of the stack. The hay will act as a wick and draw the moisture up, ruining the whole stack. The floor of the hay storage building can be earthen, but it is best to have a layer of gravel or rock on top of the dirt. Then stack the hay either on pallets or a layer of dry straw. Even a concrete floor draws in moisture, so treat it the same way you would a dirt floor.
Hay bales should be stacked on the sides, with the stems vertical to the ground. That allows better ventilation and reduction of moisture. When stacking the bales leave some "breathing room" to allow it to cure without mildewing or combusting. This is especially true if there is any question that it may have a higher than the recommended 20% moisture.
Round Bales in the Field - Cover with a Tarp or Store under a Shelter
Round bales are often less expensive since they require less labor to produce. If you have the equipment for moving them they can be a good alternative to square bales. Follow the same guidelines for storage as for square bales. Because of their size, and depending on how much you'll be storing, you'll need a larger shelter. An alternative is to cover the stacked bales with large tarps. When used to feed pasture horses it is most ideal to place the round bales under a shelter. A round bale feeder keeps the hay off the ground and reduces waste. .
Now, you can hit the trail and enjoy your horse knowing you have done what is necessary to ensure he will have a high quality food source for months to come, with the primeval sense of satisfaction that your hay barn is full and protected from the elements.
© 2008 Donna Campbell Smith