…that is the question. And it seems the answer is NOT to cover hay bales.
This summer I put a lot of effort into preserving my bales by storing them under tarps, recycled billboard signage to be precise. And I have to say that the tarps do a great job of preserving the hay. The bales look as good as any hay stored in a building.
I bale graze the cattle through the winter. In my situation it is insalubrious getting the tractor out across deep snow drifts, steep slopes, and alternating hazards of ice and mud. My only option is to stage all the bales in November before the worst of the winter weather sets in. But as I discussed in my earlier post, having the bales exposed to the weather from November onward depreciates the value of the care I take in covering bales through the summer and early fall.
One factor that I didn’t count against covering bales is that they fail to develop a rind. Rain and drying cycles create a crust of matted, spoiled hay around the bale. When I cut the baling twine or net wrap, the spoiled hay tends to stay intact as a protective layer. But unweathered bales lose a lot more hay due to wind scouring. Making things worse, after they have a few inches blown away, then they develop a spoiled layer underneath. At best I’m looking at the same amount of wasted hay as I would have if I didn’t protect the bales.
In an ideal situation, I’d get bales made up with sisal twine so I could leave it in place. The twine could be left behind to rot, and if the cattle ate it they wouldn’t be harmed since it is a natural plant fiber (contrast that with rumen blockages from net wrap). Unfortunately, everybody is getting rid of their twine round balers and going to net wrap round balers (or worse, for my outdoor storage, large square balers!). So it looks like I’ll need to suck it up and accept my lost hay.
Here’s a link to some Canadian graziers working through similar issues: