We spend so much money on hay and shavings and yet, their storage is often an afterthought. Before you toss those bales behind the barn, consider how to best protect them, and review some of the solutions budget-conscious managers across the country and north of the border have found.
First, evaluate the placement of your storage building carefully. Ideally, you should keep your hay in a separate building from the horses. This will cut down on dust and lower your risk of fire in the horse barn, thus possibly reducing your insurance costs. But your hay and shavings should also be stored close to the animals, notes Dr. Larry Redmon of Texas A&M University. “You don’t want it so far away from your pasture or barn that it becomes difficult to get to, especially during a rain or snow storm,” he says.
The major threat to your hay supply is moisture. Explains Dr. Redmon, “Moisture can range from an insignificant to major problem, depending on the building and region of the country. Unless your floor is concrete, you may have moisture moving up from the bottom. Putting a layer of pallets, railroad ties or even a tarp down will keep that moisture from moving up and ruining your lower bales.
“You also need good airflow. If the building is sealed up so tightly that you get condensation forming on the inside of the roof and raining down on the hay below, you have a problem.” For that reason, a tractor-trailer used for hay storage must be altered so it is not airtight, particularly if you live in the South where humidity levels can be fairly high. By putting some holes in the trailer to create airflow, it can serve as an ideal storage building.
In drier regions of the country, storing hay outside is common and inexpensive. Carefully evaluate the site where the hay will be placed. The site must have excellent drainage; for extra insurance, lay down a layer of gravel, pallets, timbers, or a tarp. “You should also put a tarp over the top,” explains Dr. Redmon, “but it shouldn’t just be draped over the hay. It needs to be ‘tented’ so you can get some air movement through the area to avoid having condensation accumulating inside the tarp. It can be as simple as laying poles on the top layer of hay.”
Requirements for shaving storage are fairly straightforward. Keeping the material dry is all that is required, and this can be achieved by something as simple as a tarp. Try to pick a spot that is protected from the wind and, says Doug Goebel of Gem Shavings in Auburn, Wash., include a tarp beneath the bedding. “It is a mistake not to use a tarp underneath because you will lose a lot due to moisture coming up through the ground. Plus, you’re paying for a clean product, so why scrape up dirt, rocks and grass along with your shavings?” If you dislike the way a tarp moves beneath the bedding, consider using old stall mats instead. They are heavier so they won’t shift, but will keep the moisture from soaking through and make it much easier when scooping out the last bits of product.
When building, Goebel advises carefully planning the bin size. “People will build an opening to their bin that is just a little bit larger than the size of the delivery truck. But sometimes we have a 3- or 4-foot crown on top of our trucks, and we make a pretty big mess outside of their bin. So ask your supplier about the actual size of the load. We also suggest using at least 2 x 6s for the stud walls. You may get away with a smaller dimension, like a 2 x 4, but it will eventually give out. You wouldn’t think pushing off all that bedding creates a lot of pressure, but it does.”
Budget constraints have led to some very imaginative storage solutions. Karl Smith of Clifton, Va., built a three-sided run-in bin 12 feet wide by 18 feet deep by 5 feet high with no roof for his shavings. The open side faces the driveway for easy delivery, and to cover the shavings, he built a removable 2 x 4 bolt-together roof frame with a tarp stretched over the top. The removable roof helps prevent spillage when the bedding is dumped.
Lisa Peterson Zizovski of Innisfil, Ontario, Canada, built a $300 bin, 12 feet wide by 16 feet deep. It has seven 8-foot cedar posts for supports. These are set in concrete and buried 3 feet deep, to prevent frost upheaval. With a concrete floor angled down toward the entrance and a tarp for a roof, the shed has worked quite well. “The key,” she says, “is to have the tarp higher in the back of the pit and to let it sag in the middle, to create a giant gutter for water to drain down to the entrance and away from the shavings.”
For his hay storage, Ed Sweet of Melrose, N.Y., obtained a 48-foot tractor-trailer box that was no longer road-worthy. It has worked very well. For shavings, he built an addition onto his barn and cut a hole in the wall between the barn and addition. He uses a tarp for the third wall and raises it when he needs to dump a load from his pickup. It has worked well, and, he says, “sure beats digging shavings out of a foot of snow!”
Katrina Wood runs a full-care equine facility in Greenville, N.Y., where her bedding needs grew with her business. Starting with a 12-stall barn, she used loose sawdust stored outside. But the subzero temperatures in winter made the process difficult. After her business had grown three-fold, she switched to a bulk supplier and stored the shavings under a plastic hut structure with a metal frame. But that was expensive and didn’t hold up to winter weather. Wood has since found the perfect solution for her 50-stall facility: “I’ve negotiated the purchase and drop-off/collection of a full tractor-trailer of plastic-wrapped shavings bags from Canada. When the trailer is almost empty, we offload the remaining bags, accept a new drop-off trailer and the driver collects the empty one. The only necessity is having sufficient money to pay for a full load.”
Protecting your investment is important if your business is to thrive, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot on storage. These simple ideas can help save money and keep your hay and bedding in perfect condition.