Storing round bales outside on the ground is a very common practice and represents the most economical method of hay storage. However, it also has the greatest potential for loss due to weather.
Round bales typically have a higher storage loss than small square bales, especially when stored outdoors. Studies have shown outdoor storage losses range between 5 and 35 percent depending on the amount of precipitation, storage site location, and original condition of the bale. Most of the losses that occur during outside storage take place on the bottom of the bales where moisture levels remain highest and air movement is the lowest.
There are a number of storage techniques that minimize outdoor storage loss.
One, make/buy a dense bale as they will sag less and have less surface area in contact with the ground. A dense surface layer will shed more precipitation and protect the inner part of the bale from weathering.
Two, use plastic wrap, net wrap or plastic twine. Studies show that net wrapped bales reduced grass hay dry matter losses by 32 percent compared with twine bales stored outside. Plastic twine will resist weathering, insects and rodents better than natural fiber twines. Twine should be wound tight and spaced 6 to 10 inches apart for best bale storage.
Three, store bales on a well drained location. Bales soak up moisture if placed on a wet or poorly-drained site. A well drained, four to six inch coarse rock base will minimize bottom spoilage, as well as using wooden pallets.
Finally, never store bales under trees. It is highly recommended that bales that are stacked outside, have some type of temporary cover placed over them (i.e. a tarp) for the total duration of the storage period.
Remember that the outer 4 inch layer of a 6 foot diameter round bale contains about 25 percent of the total bale volume and is most likely to be damaged by weather if stored improperly or unprotected. Storage losses are usually reduced by approximately two-thirds with indoor storage and by one-half with good plastic covering (i.e. a tarp) outdoors.
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