Storing Hay the Right Way: Understanding Why Hay Spoils in Storage

Hay can go bad in storage due to several factors that compromise its quality and safety. Here’s why hay might deteriorate during storage:

  1. Moisture Content: The most common reason for hay spoilage is high moisture levels. Ideally, hay should be baled at a moisture content of 12-18% for small square bales and less than 15% for larger bales to minimize the risk of microbial growth. Hay that is stored with a higher moisture content can develop mold and mildew, leading to spoilage.

  2. Improper Ventilation: Poor ventilation in the storage area can lead to the accumulation of moisture and heat, which are conducive to the growth of mold and bacteria. Good air circulation is crucial to keep the hay dry and reduce the risk of spoilage.

  3. Temperature Fluctuations: Significant temperature changes can cause condensation within the storage area, especially if the hay is not completely dry. This moisture can promote the growth of fungi and other pathogens.

  4. Rodent and Insect Infestation: Pests such as rodents and insects can damage hay, leading to losses in both quantity and quality. They not only eat the hay but can also introduce moisture and diseases to the hay stacks.

  5. Chemical Changes: During storage, hay continues to undergo chemical changes, which can include the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins. If hay is baled while too wet, it can undergo a process called "heating," where temperatures inside the bale can rise to a point where it begins to compost internally. This process can produce harmful molds and reduce the nutritional quality of the hay.

  6. Contact with Ground and Outside Walls: Storing hay in direct contact with the ground or the walls of a building can lead to moisture absorption from the soil and walls. This can also facilitate the growth of mold and mildew.

Proper harvesting, timely baling at the correct moisture levels, and good storage practices such as providing adequate ventilation, using pallets to avoid ground contact, and regular monitoring for pests and spoilage, are essential to prevent hay from going bad in storage.

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