You can buy the best hay on the market, but if it isn’t stored properly, you’ll sacrifice nutritional content and run the risk of being unable to feed moldy, dusty or unpalatable hay.
This is a great time of year to examine your storage area and make changes because you are probably nearly out of last year’s supply and waiting for this year’s crop to arrive.
“Old hay, insects, heat and moisture is detrimental to new hay,” said Chris Johnson, owner of Eastern Hay Company in Pawling, New York.
Start by cleaning the storage area. Sweep loose hay out of lofts and remove non-edible hay from ground-level storage areas. Next, inspect the storage structure.
“Check the integrity of the floor in your hay loft and be sure it is strong enough to support the amount of hay you’re putting in it,” he said. “Don’t forget to look up at the roof to see if there are any holes. Many cases of mold are from unnoticed holes allowing water to leak in on the hay.”
Once a hay loft is cleaned, inspected and repaired as necessary, it’s ready for a delivery of new hay. “Hay lofts are a good place to store hay because of the ventilation,” Johnson said. “Ventilation is important for maintaining quality in storage. In a hay loft, the air can circulate.”
Storing hay in ground-level buildings is also common.
“Earthen floors are tough because the ground moisture can come up into the hay,” he said.
Stacking hay on an impervious surface such as concrete is ideal for limiting ground moisture. If you’re building a new storage area, a well-drained sub-surface and a concrete pad are the best option. In existing buildings, concrete blocks or pallets can be placed on the ground and the hay stacked on top of it. In moist climates, moisture can still affect the lower row or two.
In drier climates, damage from moisture isn’t nearly as troublesome.
“Out west they can even stack hay outside because they don’t have as much moisture as we do here in the northeast,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen hay from out west that’s been stored outside and even though the outer layer may be a little bleached, you can peel that back and the hay is still good.”
If you have hay that you no longer want or isn't suitable for horses, find a local cattle or goat farmer who might be interested in cleaning out your old horse hay storage facility in exchange for the hay.