Submitted By: Chris Hicks – UT Extension

I have a picture I really like using when I teach the forages section of the Master Beef Producer Class. It depicts a hayfield with rolls stacked neatly across the landscape, except instead of fescue, alfalfa, or Bermuda grass, the rolls are composed of $100 bills.

The purpose of the picture is to remind the farmers in the audience what most of them already know: hay production is an expensive enterprise. Equipment, fertilizer, fuel, and twine are just a few of the many items used in hay production that seem to be more expensive each year. If we looked across our harvested fields and saw rolls of cash instead of grass, here are some things we probably wouldn’t do…

1.) Leave the rolls outside in the weather. Rain, hail, and snow would do a number on a roll of cash left outside. It also does a number on rolls of forage. Around 1/3 of the volume of hay is located on the outside 6 inches, meaning if you lose even part of the outside layer you are wasting significant dollars in hay.

2.) Leave the rolls on the bare soil. If I had a roll of cash and couldn’t find a dry place to put it, I would at least want it raised off the ground. Why? Bales of cash, like bales of hay, would tend to wick moisture from the soil and ruin the bottom of the product. (Full disclosure: I have never had a bale of cash, but I assume that is what would happen. I have had bales of hay and know for a fact that is what happens.)

Research has shown that putting rolls of hay on pallets or tires, even if the top is left uncovered, can lower losses to a level of about 14% dry matter loss. That still isn’t great, but is significantly better than the 30-40% loss often found from leaving hay uncovered outside on the bare ground.

3.) Leave the rolls under trees. I have to admit this is a pet peeve of mine. At first glance it might seem logical that if you put hay at the edge of a field underneath the tree line that the trees would act as an umbrella and keep the top of the rolls dry.

The reality is that if you stand underneath those same trees during a thunderstorm, you will get wet. You will also get wet after the rain stops as the water continues to fall from the leaves. Furthermore, you will stay wet even after the sun comes out as the trees will keep you shaded and prevent your clothes from drying very fast.

The same thing happens if hay is stacked under trees. In fact if you absolutely must store your cash, umm…I mean hay outside, find some high, well-drained land in an open sunny area away from trees. Store it in rows with flat edges touching and round edges separated at least 3’ apart.

Of course the ideal way to store hay is in a barn, where losses are usually less than 5%. The Tennessee Agriculture Enhancement Program provides cost share assistance to help producers build a hay barn, and the University of Tennessee Extension office can help you when planning your barn. For more information give us a call at the University of Tennessee Extension office at 615-735-2900.