All horses eat hay, but not all horse owners have the luxury of a spacious barn in which to keep said hay. Especially for owners of multiple horses, or owners who order large amounts of hay in advance, hay storage can become an expensive problem. Here’s how to keep your hay in good condition without having to build a barn.

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Threats to Hay Condition

There’s a reason why many owners keep their hay safe and snug inside a barn. There are a variety of environmental factors that can have a negative impact on your hay, causing it to lose its nutritional value and palatability or even to become dangerous to your horse.

Mold is the most important thing to avoid when it comes to your hay. Fungi growing inside the hay cause it to become dusty and nasty to the taste, but that’s not all. Most molds release mycotoxins: by-products of their metabolic processes that are toxic to horses. These mycotoxins can cause all kinds of issues from colic through to neurological disorders, and can even be deadly to your horse. It’s absolutely essential to prevent mold from growing in your hay, and from disposing of any hay that does become moldy. This should never be used for animal feed or bedding, as other animals like cows and pigs can also die from mycotoxins.

Mold can only grow in warm, damp, and fairly airless conditions. This is why bales must be kept out of the rain and never stored directly on the ground, as moisture from the ground can seep into the hay bales and allow mold to grow. Adequate air flow must also be allowed around the bales to keep the hay fresh and clean.

Finally, wind can dry out the hay, leaching much of its nutritional value and even blowing away loosely baled hay, so it must be protected from strong winds.

Safety Considerations

Large amounts of stored hay pose two major dangers to horses and people: fire and snakes.

Hay is one of the most dramatically flammable substances present at a stableyard. It catches like kindling and burns hot and for long, which is why only very old barns now have hay stored in a loft. Many horses and people were injured and killed in barn fires that started in airless hay lofts. Any large storage area of stacked hay is still a severe fire risk, particularly if it’s stacked too tightly and becomes damp. Dampness generates heat, which can cause spontaneous combustion – in other words, your hay storage can suddenly and randomly burst into flame. Don’t let that happen. Even with a well-managed hay storage area, be sure to have a fire drill implemented and a fire extinguisher nearby; locate the hay far enough away from houses and stables that fires can’t easily spread between them. Also, never park any Vehicles (including tractors, farm equipment etc) near the hay, in the case the hay does ignite you don’t want it igniting a gas tank.

Amerex-Fire-Extinguisher

fire extinguisher

Another risk when it comes to hay is the presence of snakes. Depending on your area, poisonous snakes may be common, and you’ll want to deter these from being near humans, dogs, and horses. Rodents love making their nests in stacks of hay, and where rodents go, snakes will go in search of them. Not only do rodents attract snakes, but they also spread disease. Not having a rat-proof barn is no reason to be stuck with a plague of these little critters. Barn cats remain the single most effective way of keeping rats at bay, with the bonus of being all-natural and super adorable! A variety of rat traps are also available, ranging from the classic mousetrap design through to a high-voltage electric trap.

How to Store Your Hay

While some horse owners, particularly those who use big round bales, opt to store their hay outside, it’s not ideal. However, if you have no other option, it’s possible to keep hay stored like this as long as you’re careful how you stack it. Round bales should lie on their side so that rainwater will run off instead of soaking in, and should be stacked closely together to protect the ends. They should be placed in a flat, open area with easy access to the stables and fields, and a firebreak should be made all around them, either by burning a section of grass or by clearing it away to make a non-flammable area wide enough to stop a blaze from coming in – or out.

The cheapest and most effective way to protect your hay without a barn is by using a simple system of a tarpaulin and pallets. Stack wooden pallets on the ground to keep the hay off the damp floor, then stack the hay on top of the pallets and cover the whole thing with a solid, heavy-duty tarpaulin. Finally, ensure that the hay storage area is secure and that horses and other animals can’t get in and raid it. Electric fencing, preferably specially designed horse tape, is your safest bet.

Conclusion

While some horse owners prefer to buy the whole winter’s hay supply at once, it can be a cash flow problem for some, and a storage problem for everyone. Unless you have a barn, it’s best to buy hay as you need it, provided that you’re sure your supplier will have hay all winter long. There’s much to be said for the peace of mind of having your whole hay supply at your fingertips, but it’s not possible for everyone. Discuss this with your supplier long before the winter comes so that you have time to plan and prepare.

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