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- Losses in quality and quantity result when forages are exposed to the weather. The amount of loss will vary depending on precipitation, storage site location and preparation, and the original condition of the bale. Losses are more significant in higher rainfall conditions than under drier environments.
- Selecting the most appropriate type of storage depends on the end-use for the forage, the specific livestock feeding situation and the needs of the producer.
- Not all classes of livestock have the same forage quality requirements. Consider covering high quality forages that is to be fed to high performance livestock or are destined for the export or domestic market.
- Storage losses can be reduced by two-thirds with indoor storage and by one-half with good covering outside. Main areas of concern are weathering on the tops and sides of the bales but also where the bales contact the ground. Moisture will move from the ground up into the bale through a "wicking" action.
- All storage sites regardless of the type of storage, should be well drained. A firm base of course rock - preferably not gravel or concrete, should be used to minimize moisture movement from the ground up into the bales. Avoid areas where moisture and/or snow can accumulate or where drying is impaired.
- Resistance to weathering depends on how well the packages are made. Larger bale packages have more volume per unit of surface area exposed to the elements. A 2" layer of weathered material on a 4 X 4 bale represents 16% of the bale volume while the same 2" layer on a 6 X 5 bale represents 11% of the volume. Caution: As bale size and density increases, proper baling moisture is more critical to prevent heating and deterioration in quality.
- High-density bales will tend to "sag" less, exposing less surface area to the ground and a dense surface on the bale helps shed rain.
- Storing bales outside on the ground without covers is the cheapest method of storage but has the greatest potential for weathering loses, especially under extended storage periods.
- Large round bales without cover should be stored end-to-end in single rows in a north-south orientation with space between the bales to facilitate good air circulation and drying.
- Uncovered pyramid stacking exposes lower levels of bales to increased weathering as rain shed off the top bales filters into the lower levels. Two-bale "mushroom" stacking where the bottom bale is placed on end and the top bale on it's side minimizes the amount of ground contact but moisture shed off the top bale can accumulate in the lower bale significantly increasing spoilage.
- Temporary storage options can be effective and include low-cost frame structures with fabric covers, reusable tarps or bale sleeves.
- Wrapping individual bales with light-stabilized plastic significantly reduces dry matter losses. However, the plastic can restrict air movement at the bale surface and may retain considerable moisture at the bottom of the bale. "Net-wrap" is similar to plastic wrap but utilizes a porous material designed to shed water and permit air movement at the bale surface. The use of self-adhesive materials eliminates the need for twine.
- Permanent covered storage should be considered in a long-term forage production system. Weather-tight facilities will maintain forage quality the best of all storage options. To be effective they must be structurally sound, well designed to allow easy access by bale handling equipment and be properly sized for the intended crop.
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