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Round bales sitting in open Kansas farm field

Proper storage of round bales can minimize nutrient loss. | Download this photo

K-State beef cattle experts suggest best practices for storing round bales

Rain will often cause high nutrient losses in bales stored outside

June 23, 2020

MANHATTAN, Kan. — It is hay cutting time in Kansas, and once all the grass is baled it must be stored for future use. Oftentimes that is outdoors, and many producers may not fully realize the nutrient loss that comes with weathering of large round hay bales stored outside, particularly in regions of the country with high rainfall.

“Thirty percent of the bale is in the outer six inches so it doesn’t take much spoilage to lose a third of the bale,” said Bob Larson, Kansas State University veterinarian, during a recent discussion on the Beef Cattle Institute Cattle Chat podcast. He added that if weathering losses extend 18 inches into the bale, 75% of the hay is affected.

To minimize those losses, Larson and veterinarian Brad White talked about ways to help producers who are unable to store their hay under a covering.

“A lot of the loss comes from the ground, so putting the bales on a rock base will keep the base from leaching moisture from the ground,” Larson said.

White suggested producers line large bales north to south in rows and to space the rows far enough apart to allow for quick drying of the hay after a rain.

“By lining them up north to south that allows only the north end of the row to avoid the drying effects of sunlight,” he said.

Larson said when calculating loss, producers need to remember there will be some natural loss during feeding as well as during storage.

“There is a huge difference in the amount of loss from bales stored under cover where the loss is minimal compared to the potential large loss for bales stored outside in an area with a lot of rainfall,” Larson said. “So, it is important to implement cost effective strategies to manage that loss.”

To hear the full discussion about hay storage, tune into the BCI Cattle Chat podcast.

Sidebar: Producers urged to meet cattle's water needs

There’s nothing like a cool refreshing drink of water to hydrate a body on a hot summer day. Like humans, cattle also need to keep hydrated for peak performance.

“Non-lactating cows need to drink between six and 18 gallons of water per day,” said K-State veterinarian Bob Larson, adding that cows in lactation need a minimum of 11 gallons per day.

“If you have many cattle drinking at the same time from one well, you need to make sure there is enough storage capacity in the water system to meet their need to drink,” Larson said.

Along with having enough water available, the quality also has to be good.

“Tanks and automatic watering systems should be checked often to make sure the water is clean,” said K-State veterinarian Brad White.

Larson urged producers to watch ponds for signs of blue green algae that can cause cattle to get sick if they drink from it.  And, he adds, “in a year when there is a drought and the water retreats, there may be muddy access up to the pond, making it difficult for the cattle to reach the water.”

For peak performance, the experts stressed the importance of giving cattle unlimited access to a clean, and robust water supply.

At a glance

Nutrient loss due to damage from rainfall can be significant when round bales are stored outside. To minimize damage, Beef Cattle Institute experts offer a few tips.


Beef Cattle InstituteCattle Chat Podcast

Notable quote

“Thirty percent of the bale is in the outer six inches so it doesn’t take much spoilage to lose a third of the bale.”

-- Bob Larson, veterinarian, Kansas State University


Bob Larson

Written by

Lisa Moser


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.