Reducing hay storage loss and feeding waste are always beneficial, but given limited forage supplies and the price of hay this year, they are even more critical. Hay storage losses will vary depending on weather (e.g., rain, humidity, sun, wind, etc.), soil contact, length of storage, forage species, bale density, bale size and other factors.

Banta jason
Associate Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist / Texas A&M University

Round bales should be stored in long rows end to end (i.e., flat side to flat side) to minimize the amount of the bale that is exposed to the weather. Additionally, store bales in an area that is well-drained and gets plenty of sunlight. Rows should be at least 3 feet apart so wind and sunlight can dry bales quicker after they get rained on.

When hay is stored outside, selecting which bales to feed first is important. Storage losses are less for bigger bales and bales that are tighter (denser). Additionally, losses are generally greater for forage species with bigger stems compared to fine-stemmed hay.

Feeding losses should be managed by controlling access to hay. One of the most effective and lowest-cost methods is unrolling hay. This can be done with an unroller attached to the three-point system of a tractor. Additionally, using the front-end loader with the forks or bucket tilted back will also work. Depending on the size of the tractor, the front tire can also be used to help unroll hay. When unrolling hay, it is important to only unroll the amount of hay that will be consumed in one day.

Hay rings are also used to reduce feeding losses. When evaluating rings, consider cost, how long they are expected to last and how much waste they will prevent. Rings with slanted or S-shaped bars around the top generally reduce waste more than other designs. Additionally, rings with skirts or closely spaced vertical bars around the bottom reduce waste more than designs that are more open. One disadvantage of rings is that forage production the next year is often reduced where rings were located.


Grinder-mixers are also used by some producers. They allow producers to control how much hay is fed and, if needed, enable producers to mix in other ingredients. When feeding low-quality forages with big stems, grinding the hay some may help reduce feeding losses. However, it is important to consider how long it will take to pay for the equipment based on potential savings.