Tips for Tarping and Shedding Quality Cash Hay

Storing for quality is just as important as harvesting for quality

Production of high quality alfalfa or timothy hay doesn't stop at the baler - protection from weathering is the final step in getting a quality product to market. Unprotected hay can suffer from lost feed quality, mold growth and bleaching which can greatly reduce quality and price. The use of hay sheds or tarps can return $10 in higher prices in the cash market for every dollar invested. Tarps are less expensive than sheds initially, but require more labour and do not protect hay to the same extent as sheds. Hay sheds generally provide the most economical coverage, and result in the best quality end product.

Storage Tips

  • Keep different fields or lots of hay separate so that they are accessible for viewing, inspection and shipping.
  • Locate outside stacks so that they can be built from both ends allowing two different lots to be accessible in one stack.
  • Consider hay sheds which are the most satisfactory and economical type of hay storage. A basic pole shed with truss rafters and sheeting on 2-3 sides will have a low maintenance lifespan of 40 years. Total cost is $3-$4 per tonne. Returns with a hay shed are estimated at $10-$50 per tonne. Bottom bales can be saved with a hay shed if plastic is laid down on the ground first. Hay sheds are excellent dual purpose buildings that can be used for machinery, grain or livestock.
  • Hay being exported overseas in containers must be less than 12% moisture. In certain situations, producers in the industry will start baling small square bales at as high as 14% moisture. They have been successful in having this hay "sweat down" in the stack. To accomplish this, bale weights should not exceed 60 lbs and bales should be properly stacked to capitalize on stack dry - down. There is some risk to this situation in that the weather has to co-operate and a producer has to accurately know moisture levels. Be aware that under rapid drying conditions hay may test dryer than it really is, as moisture contained inside stems is not detected to the same extent as outer moisture. As a result, hay which is considered dry but has cured for a short period of time may spoil.

Tips on Tarping

  • Storage site location should have good truck access, good drainage, and lots of room for snow removal.
  • Have stacks running north and south or angled northwest to southeast.
  • Space stacks at least 40 feet from other stacks, buildings or trees to allow for good ventilation, sun exposure and accessibility.
  • Use a ridge bale or peak the top of the stack for rain, snow run-off and also ventilation.
  • The ends of the stack should be left open to allow air to circulate through the top of the stack. This will allow the condensation caused from sweating to escape.
  • Overlap tarps 3-5 feet to avoid water from running in.
  • When tying down tarps, tie close to the edge of the tarp.
  • Retie and tighten tarps every month or as needed. Do not allow your tarps to flap in the wind, as this will decrease the life span of the tarp.
  • Tarps should cover at least 3 feet down the side of the stack. The wider the tarp the less wind problem and also the less wastage. Tie-tier bales should be covered.
  • The bottom layer of bales will be damaged by ground moisture, and should not be marketed with the rest of the stack. Find another use for these bales.
  • Buy a quality tarp with reinforced grommets. Tarps should last 3-5 years with only minor repairs required periodically.
  • A number of local businesses sell tarps. They are also available from Inland Plastics in Saskatoon (306-931-1122) and Northwest Tent and Awning in Edmonton (403-451-6828). A 7 mill tarp with sewn in pockets is available from Northwest Tent. This has become popular in that producers will run 1" or 1 1/2" plastic pipe through the pockets and tie down the tarp with the pipe.