09-09-2013, 11:18 AM
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When I first moved to Colorado, I was shocked to see all the hay stacked outside with no protection. Sounds like you live in this area. You can safely store hay outside but you should take some precautions.
First stack the hay on pallets or put down a layer of large rocks (1/2-1"). You will have mice and rabbits irregardless. You won't have any more with pallets. That's why we have barn cats. The rocks will allow air under the bales and prevent the hay from sucking up ground moisture and molding from the bottom up. Stack it as you normally would. If you get a stack wagon load, you will need some type of backstop to push the load up against and to prevent it from falling over. Covering the stack can either help protect it or cause more damage. If the tarp flutters in the wind and creates ware holes and rips, the water is going to channel to those spots, run into the bale and create a situation ripe for spoilage. 1/2 inch of rain on a 20x20 stack is 113 gallons of water. Spread out over the entire top, it will only penetrate about 1 inch and it will dry in a few days but if it all runs to one spot, the 113 gallons will go half way down the stack. In this situation, it's better to leave it uncovered. If you cover, buy the top quality tarp you can. They will run $100+. Some people put tires on top of the stack to create a little air pocket but I have found that the tires end up doing damage to the tarp (steel belt tires) and you end up with just as many problems. If you can find old vinyl billboards, those are bulletproof. You can put those down first than cover with a tarp. Make sure it goes over the sides a few feet (that's where it will wear first and has the most tension on the tarp).
I don't worry about snow on the stack. It has such a low moisture content and will usually blow off long before it can melt. You will get bleaching on the top and sides and lose some quality because of it but it is still fit to feed. You could cover the stack in the "rainy" season, than remove it for the winter. The winds are worse then. If you feed the stack from the top down, you are getting rid of the bales that have gotten wet and dried so they aren't sitting around deteriorating. You might lose the top layer but depending upon what you are paying, it might still be cheaper than replacing the tarp every two years. Than get a steer and you don't have any waste.