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Better hay storage and sampling

Brad Nelson Published on 07 August 2009

After all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making that stack of perfect hay, added to alternately praying for and cursing the weather, how about a little common sense in storing the product?

Some areas of the country can play “Tarping Roulette” and actually win 51 percent of the time. The other side of this is the stack that got caught in a thunderstorm and had rain run down through the stack, getting every layer wet.

Since most forage producers shoot for the more lucrative feed store or dairy or export markets these days, protecting the product is just as important as cutting it on time and baling it up with the correct moisture.

Nothing is foolproof. The best means I have seen for preserving the bottom bales is to elevate the stackyard, cover it with something porous, like big gravel, fully tarp the stack with the tarps long enough to prevent water from running under the stack, and then keeping the snowdrifts plowed away from the stacks so that when the snow does melt, the water runs away from the stackyard.

Sampling: part 1
I’ll divide my comments on sampling into two parts. The first is taking a proper core sample to have a lab tell you how good they think the hay is.

What is desired is a sample that is representative of the whole stack. Depending on the size of the stack, core every third or fifth or tenth bale the whole length of the stack.

If you know that a large stack was cut and baled over the course of two or more days, it would be a good idea to core each day’s production separately.

In the heat of the summer even one day can make a difference in test from “Just barely acceptable” to “Too rank, too high in fiber.” A few of the tricks I learned over the years are shown below.

Sampling: part 2
The other part of sampling involves getting inside the bales in the stack far enough to tell what the hay looks like. When we started dealing with 3x4 big bales, I had to find a way to get inside the bale without destroying it.

You can get away with cutting the strings on a small bale, and then re-tying the strings when you finish, but that just won’t work with the big bales.

A couple or three years ago I made a sample knife from a cut-down machete. (Look up the story in the archives. The title was “Toolmaker”.) Following are some shots of how the knife is used to look at hay, and also to cut samples from a big bale suitable to mail overseas.

The amazing thing about the big bales is that leaf retention equal to small bales is possible. There is usually a “learning curve” with the purchase of a big baler that results in some mistakes that need to be fed up right away.

Moisture is critical. Some will call 14 to 18 percent moisture the correct range for small bales, but with the big balers the upper limit may be 14 percent.

The hardest thing to understand is that the stem moisture needs to be all but gone or there will be moisture spoilage problems. Let it cure in the windrow, then catch what dew moisture you can in the early evening to hold the leaves on the stems as you bale.

I am an optimist and a perfectionist. I fully well realize that when the low temperature of the night is 85 degrees and the wind never stops blowing that there will be no dew, and when you have to bale it dry to save the next crop, that is what you have to do.

Putting up hay is kind of like marriage. You always hope for a hug and a kiss when you get home, followed by a meal that is not burned.

But no matter how optimistic you are there are going to be those days when instead you get crowned with the skillet and then have the dog set on you as you try to get away. If this was easy, anybody could do it.

That is why we are in agriculture in the first place – because nobody else can or will feed the country. Sometimes we have to learn to duck, keep a can of chili in the pick-up, and have the dog understand that you are going to bite him back, and that your bite is worse than his. We are American farmers, and we survive.  FG