News / Articles
Making Your Forage Last
Everyone has to store their hay at some point. Maybe your pasture grass is covered in snow or maybe you found an excellent deal on Standlee forage and wanted to stock up. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with storing your feed. But there’s everything wrong with storing your feed incorrectly. In fact, improper storage techniques can actually lead to serious health problems for your horse as well as a lot of wasted forage. On the other hand, storing your forage the right way can drastically help it retain its longevity and much of its nutritional value.
Water and Rats
Water. The very mention of the word sends shivers down your forages’ fibrous spines. In fact, water is public enemy #1 when it comes to storing your feed. When hay gets wet, it can develop mold and other potentially harmful organisms. This mold can cause skin allergies and respiration problems for your horse. If mold is ingested, it can lead to all sorts of problems including respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurologic, and reproductive complications. Serious cases can even result in death.
The first preventative measure against water is to keep your stored forage off the ground. Stacking forage on pallets allows air to circulate beneath the bales and can help prevent them from "wicking-up" condensation from the ground. Hay bales stored on wet surfaces can have as much as 50% spoilage.
Likewise, the formation in which you stack your bales can make a big difference. Round bales should be stored end-to-end. Stacking large round bales on top of one another usually increases losses, especially if they’re stored outside. This is because stacking tends to trap moisture and limits drying from sun and wind. In fact, studies have shown outdoor storage losses for round bales can range between 5% and 35% (depending on the amount of precipitation, location and original condition of the bale).
Finally, never store your bales under trees or in low lying areas. Bales stored outside should have some type of covering such as a tarp. According to research, bales stored outdoors with good plastic coverings waste half as much forage. The best option is dry indoor storage which usually reduces losses by about 66%.
Your animals aren’t the only ones that love forage. It’s important to seal rodent holes and prevent larger animals such as raccoons from getting into your feed storage. Pests don’t make good house guests and will often create a mess of your storage area. More importantly, they often contain dangerous diseases that can be transmitted to your horse.
Retaining Nutritional Value
It’s always a good idea to feed your oldest forage first. However, if forage is stored in a dry environment, it’ll stay suitable for long periods of time after being harvested. The nutritional value of hay remains relatively constant whether a horse eats it two months or two years post-harvest (again, assuming it’s being stored properly). The exception to this rule is carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. After 1 year of storage, hay will lose some carotene. 1 to 2 months after harvest, forage will also lose vitamin e content.
How the forage is baled after harvest also affects its nutritional value and longevity. If hay is baled with the correct moisture content (10% to 15%), it will lose very little of its digestible nutrients. This is the reason why Standlee insures that our forage is baled at or below 12% moisture content.
To help you estimate the longevity of your stored forage, we’ve provided a chart below. The values listed are assuming your storing Premium Western Forage (stored properly) since poorer quality hay might not last as long.
Part of properly storing your forage is also knowing how much you need. Make sure you’re accurately feeding your horse the proper amount with our Feed Calculator, a tool designed by Standlee’s nutritional specialists that takes into account specific factors unique to your horse’s situation.