By Maynard van der Galien
Waste and carelessness dont seem to bother some people. Every winter I see sparkling new, riding lawn mowers parked by the house. Its fairly common to see motorized equipment just sitting out in all kinds of weather not covered.
I frown when I see farm machinery like balers and combines parked outdoors all winter. And when I see round bales of hay stacked in a pyramid and not covered with a tarp, I cant believe that a farmer would go to all the bother and expense of making hay and then letting the rain ruin it.
Ive been making and storing round bales of hay since they were first introduced in the early 1980s. Hay is best when its stored inside, but if thats not possible there are ways to store it outside that work quite well. Rainfall soaking right through the bales can be avoided.
Just recently I saw a huge pyramid stack in a field (three bales on the bottom, then two bales and one on top) and behind this stack was another one from previous years that had sagged in and was obviously rotting.
The pyramid is easy to make and very common. You grab a bale with the front end loader prong, run over to the stack, tip it in, go grab another one, run over to the stack, tip it in. Its very handy and it doesnt take all the yard space up to do it.
But if stacked bales are left uncovered, rain or moisture that lands on the top bale of the pyramid runs down between the bales into the middle layer. The same thing happens when moisture from the middle layer moves down to the bottom layer.
Quite often I see hundreds of round bales stored in a flat area of a field. If the farmer doesnt use or sell the hay, hell stick more in the following year. That hay may sit there for years and rot there. Its unbelievable!
This is my rule of thumb for making and storing hay: to reduce storage losses, make the bale dense (very tight) and evenly formed. This encourages rainfall to run off rather than settle in depressions and soak into the bale. Store bales on a well-drained site (a slope) with air spaces between bales to allow drying after rain. Do not stack any kind of bales unless they are covered with plastic.
Move round bales to a storage location as soon as possible after baling. The area should be on a slight hill or slope. Thatch formation is what helps keep moisture out.
Put the bales in long north-south rows. I found that works best. The north-south orientation allows maximum drying. Once hay is baled, moisture is its enemy. Run the rows up and down the slope, not across. Rows stacked across the slope will trap moisture as it moves downslope.
Butt the bales end to end. Tightly! End to end bales will thatch as a single roll and reduce the loss on the ends.
Leave space between the rows of rolls, preferably three feet. Again, this allows hay to dry out after dew or rain fall.
Dont store round rolls under trees. I see this occasionally. Trees prevent drying.
And finally, make sure bale stacks are not in areas subject to flooding.
Another popular method is to stack round bales in a mushroom shape (one bale with the butt down and the second bale over the top to form a T) and that works well if the bottom bale is a smaller diameter so the top bale sheds the rain completely away from the butt bale. Making a smaller bottom bale means the operator has to make two different size bales. If both bales are the same size, water will fall on the sides of bottom T bale.
Farmers have a lot of machinery, equipment (and hay and grains) to look after and store inside. It shouldnt be that hard for the average person to park a lawn mower inside or cover it, should it?
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer.