Covering good hay can pay, study shows
There are many alternatives for protecting a hay harvest, from full-on storage sheds with walls and doors to tarps and dangling weights.
Leaving round bales outside in rows side by side or “mushroom style” results in spoilage losses of six to 10 per cent, a 1988 study by the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute found.
However, hay kept in a shed saw exactly zero losses, said Tim Clarke, a farm production adviser based in Ashern.
A top-notch, 80×200-foot storage shed 20 feet high with no foundation and a gravel floor would cost $228,000. If it holds 1,077 tons of medium squares and lasts 30 years, the cost of storage is about $212 per ton in capital costs or $7 per ton per year. If it lasts 25 years, the annual cost per ton is $8.20.
At four cents per pound, you’re probably better off storing hay outside and learning to live with the seven per cent lost to weather, he said.
But if the hay is worth over six cents per pound, the shed pays for itself — if it’s always full and lasts 30 years.
At $200-per-ton hay, weathering losses amount to $14 per ton. At that price, having a hay shed makes sense.
“So, the higher the value of the hay, the easier it is to pay for the hay shed,” said Clarke.
Lower-cost alternatives such as owner-built structures made with salvaged hydro poles or treated timbers can do a good job, too, but the hay may still be subject to rain or snow infiltration and bleaching if the sides aren’t covered.
A tarp can pay for itself, he added, especially if it can be made to last a few years.
A 25×48-foot hay tarp that costs $150 plus $25 of rope and weights covering 42 tons of hay with a three-foot overhang costs $4.17 per ton. If it lasts three years, the cost is just $1.38/ton per year.