Protecting hay from environmental damage

  From the October 15, 2018 issue of Agri-News
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 Protecting hay from weather damage can significantly reduce the cost of wintering cows. Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre, looks at the costs of damaged hay and how to protect it.

When hay is carried over the course of a winter, bales weather and lose both weight and quality,” says Yaremcio. “This poses the key question of what kind of value losses occur when storing the bales outside unprotected from the elements.”

Yaremcio says that research on overwinter outdoor bale storage done in the Westlock area found a 5.7 per cent reduction in bale weight over the first winter. “A 1,400 pound bale in July would weigh 1,320 pounds the following spring. The bales were stored in an area that was higher in elevation compared to the surrounding area, and the grass was mowed prior to bringing the bales onto the site.”

Yaremcio adds that other research reports indicate that weight loss can be as high as 15 per cent, or 210 lb. for a 1400 lb. bale. “Increased losses are expected if snow is trapped between the bales and during the spring melt if the water does not run off, resulting in increased water damage.”

“Weathering also affects the acceptability of hay to livestock,” says Yaremcio. “Cows will reject or waste up to eight per cent more feed from bales stored unprotected outdoors, as compared to bales placed under a tarp or stored under a shed.”

Bales stored outdoors tend to squat or flatten out during storage. “The total surface area of the bale in contact with the ground and exposed to rain increases, adding to the weather damage over time. Digestibility of the weathered hay can drop 10 per cent compared to hay protected from the elements,” adds Yaremcio.”

This loss in consumption and digestibility is further compounded by leaching losses of protein and soluble sugars, or energy. Explains Yaremcio, “Nutrient losses are greater from the leaf portion of the plant compared to the stems. Weathered hay can test two to three per cent lower in protein. Hay that tested 14 per cent after baling can be 10 to 11 per cent the following spring. Energy can be 20 to 50 per cent lower. TDN value of 63 per cent after baling can be as low as 45 to 55 per cent. If the winter is variable with many freeze and thaw cycles, damage will be greater than in winters that are constantly cold.”

Bales made with net wrap withstand weather damage better than those made with twine. “Net wrapped bales can have 10 per cent damage whereas bales made with twine can have 18 per cent damage,” adds Yaremcio. “Hard core bales with high density - heavier bales - are packed tighter and shed water better than bales with lower density, or lighter bales. So, soft core bales sustain more damage than the heavier ones.”

Weather damage to the outer layers of the bale significantly impact overall bale quality. “A five foot diameter bale with 4 inches of deterioration affects 23 per cent of the total bale weight. Overall quality is reduced significantly even if it appears that a small layer of the bale is damaged,” he says.

“Spending time to prepare a bale storage site, covering the bales with a tarp or plastic, or placing bales under a shed will provide an economic advantage especially if a portion of this years’ crop will be carried over into next winters feeding period,” explains Yaremcio. “If a 1,400 pound bale is valued at 9 cents a pound or $180 per ton - or $146 per bale - weight loss of 5.7 per cent, a reduction in acceptance - increased waste - by 8 per cent, and a 10 per cent loss in digestibility increases the cost of providing the same amount of nutrients to the cow to be equivalent to $161.00 per bale.”

“If a 1,400 pound cow is fed 40 pounds of hay for 125 days, it requires 5,000 pounds, or 3.6 bales, of non-damaged or protected hay for the wintering period. Cost of the undamaged hay at $146 per bale is $525.60 per head for the 125 days,” Yaremcio adds. "It works out to $300 per cow more this year than the feed costs experienced last winter."

“Using the values mentioned above, unprotected hay with the associated weight loss, reduction in quality and increased waste, the cost of providing the equivalent amount of nutrients from the hay and accounting for the losses increases the cost to $672.38 per head,” says Yaremcio.

“The difference in feeding cost is $ 146.78 per cow when associated quality and yield losses are considered when storing hay outdoors unprotected from the weather,” says Yaremcio. “In 1989, Harlan Hughes from North Dakota State University calculated that a $1 reduction in winter feeding costs would improve overall profitability of the operation by $2.48.”

For more information about protecting hay, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Alberta Ag-Info Centre
310-FARM (3276)

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Barry Yaremcio.
This document is maintained by Caitlynn Reesor.
This information published to the web on October 1, 2018.