Safe Hay: Feed Storage

How do you safely store hay and horse feed?

Summer months are prime time for hay baling. But not just any hay is for horses. As a fire hazard and perishable crop, its environmental sensitivity and susceptibility to parasites can make it dangerous to consume or even store.

Looking to save up some healthy hay for cooler months? Here’s how to stockpile it properly, avoid spoilage, and mitigate your risk of a barn fire.

Moisture Prevention

Moisture is the quickest way to shorten the shelf life of your hay bales and horse feed. The wetter it is when baled, the quicker you’ll have to throw it out and start anew. Whether at the hands of humidity in the air or a leak in your barn, just 18-20% moisture content is enough to encourage mold growth and kick off the decomposition process. Once that happens not only are you at risk of damaging your horse’s digestive system, the chemical changes can also increase your chances of a barn fire.

Wherever you choose to keep your bales the better ventilated your storage space, the better chance you have at minimizing moisture.

Rodent Protection

Warm shelter, plentiful food, water reserves: these are all the major draws of field mice and rats whose sensitive sense of smell will lead them straight to your horse’s feed. That is unless you store horse supplements, feed, and hay properly.

Some of the best ways to prevent flea and tick-carrying rodents from making a home in your barn include:

  • Getting a barn cat. The more predators they have in the vicinity, they less likely they are to set up shop.
  • Elevating feed troughs and pails. The idea here is to keep as much feed from falling on the ground as possible.
  • Sweep and clean the barn floor regularly. The fewer scraps that they can access, the less time they’ll spend making a happy home in your stalls.
  • Trapping them. If you have a problem with cruelty to rodents, you can get humane traps that allow for catch and release.
  • Putting feed in bins. Even if they do figure out how to break into your feed room, they’ll have a hard time penetrating a securely covered plastic or metal can.

Stacking Tips

Again, air circulation is key when stacking bales of hay. Wooden pallets make great storage elevation preventing moisture seepage from the ground. Create an uneven surface to improve ventilation by stacking the bottom layers sideways (twine should face out, not up).

Encourage airflow by leaving space between each row and alternating the orientation with each subsequent layer. Keep away from walls and flammable materials or heat sources. You can also configure bails into a pyramid shape about 4-5 rows high to encourage moisture runoff.

Hay and Heat

Sunlight can bleach hay, decreasing its nutritional content, so it’s best if bails are kept indoors until use. And while it may sound counterintuitive, the more moisture they harbor, the higher their risk of spontaneous combustion.

The first two weeks are the most mission-critical, but horse owners should constantly be checking to make sure internal temps don’t climb higher than 115 Fahrenheit for at least two months. Whether you use a digital tube or compost thermometer or leave a metal tube inserted to the center, the best way to prevent a barn fire is to monitor your stacks.

In the end, the safety, and shelf life, of your horse feed or hay has everything to do with how you store it. Done right, your horse can enjoy healthy hay bales indefinitely.