Hay pile protection
My new little ranch is in the process of being built. Because it is in an arid region - less than 10" of rain a year - I am considering having an open hay pile with a tarp, instead of the expense of building a hay barn (my 3 stall barn does not have a loft).
Wind is a consideration - 60mph is common in winter, and we've had gusts to 130mph (!!). Can a tarp even be anchored to stay put in that kind of wind? How?
My main question, though, is footing - what should I use UNDER the pile of hay? Just the dirt/rocks? Concrete? Stall mats (maybe those ones with holes)? Pallets (um, no. Rabbits and mice)... the idea is to make sure that bottom layer is useable, but also to minimize homes for critters.
Suggestions of other ways to store hay outside the barn are welcome. I'm assuming regular bales at this point, as I'm unsure if I can find a supplier for horse-quality round bales, which would actually be my preference.
How many bales are you talking about?
As for critters, you're always going to have them.
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I would put in the cheapest three sided barn possible, on a dirt floor. Tarps are frankly a big fat pain, and you do not want to be managing a flapping torn tarp while trying to hay your horses in the winter....
You will end up finding hay suppliers of both small square, and big round - so plan storage that both will fit into.
I store my bales on the dry dirt floor. If I was worried about damp they would be on pallets, but damp is not a major problem for me. I don't care if a few mice make their nests in there - generally my bales are so tightly packed they don't seem to get in in any kind of noticeable number.
Oh, I also get a d*mn porcupine snuggling up in my barn which is fine until my dogs smell him.......
No matter what hay sits on there is soon dampness between the bale and what it is sitting on. After many mistakes, I've learned to use a double high row of pallets placed so the breezes can blow thro underneath. Again, because of the moisture in the hay, condensation and mold will form beneath a tarp unless a pricey breathable tarp is used. It is important that air can circulate around the hay. A basic hay shed would be a pole building with a roof and two sides to protect the hay from the prevailing winds and rain. Rough cut 1' boards spaced about 3" apart will strengthen the structure and offer a lot of protection. Leave walk around room. 12'x 16' of space, about 8' high will hold about 100 bales.
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.
This is what we do with our hay stack:
Footing: Because we pick the hay up in the field with a bale wagon (or stackliner), it has to go on the ground for auto unloading purposes. The spot we picked is as high and level as we could find while still remaining within easy walking distance of the barn and corrals. We do get some mold on the part of the bale touching the ground - we use a steel brush, which works well, to get rid of the moldy part before feeding.
Tarping - Over the years, I've lost count of the tarps we've bought, used and discarded. We've gone through expensive (as in heavy duty) as well as cheaper tarps trying to perfect our 'system'. What we are using now are two tarps and straps; this method is very successful for us. A bottom tarp is tied onto the hay stack just enough to keep if from moving around; it can have a few rips; it goes between hay and top tarp; it serves the purpose of preventing the hay stalks from rubbing and creating holes in the top tarp. A top tarp that is good shape and fully waterproof is put over the bottom tarp and tied to the stack using its grommets; it serves the purpose of keeping the rain and melting snow out of the stack (those are the two things which cause, by far, the most trouble for us by way of creating moldy areas). Over these two tarps we put straps in strategic places and tie them to the hay stack; the straps prevent the tarps from billowing up too high which is the main reason they get wrecked in the first place - the winds just pick them up like sails and rip the grommets and strings right out of them; the straps should be as non abrasive as possible - we use rope but we put pipe insulation foam tubes (along with some duck tape to hold them in place) on areas where the ropes go over the corners of the stack. We are proof that even in high winds this system will work. You could use this method on either square or round bales.
Good luck with your ventures.
I purchased two 12'x20' portable tarp garages with heavy steel frames for my hay and they work awesome. We have them placed in an area that is somewhat protected from the wind and anchored down with ratchet straps and screw in auger type anchors about 18" long. The tarp material is heavy duty agricultural grade, so they are very sturdy. Inside, we put a cheaper tarp on the ground and a layer of pallets to stack the hay on. There is enough air movement to keep the tarp from sweating on the inside and I don't have to worry about pulling the tarp out of the snow to get at my hay. We do get heavy snow loads in the winter, but the snow slides off the top. If it accumulates, I just push the roof with a broom from the inside and off it goes. With two sheds, I can store around 360-380 60lb square bales between the two sheds.
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