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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Forage Storage: Does It Pay?

Farm Business Management Update, June 2002

By Scott Jessee

Hay is the largest crop produced in Virginia. In 2001 there were approximately 1,320,000 acres harvested. In the rush of spring and summer activities, if we get the "hay-made" and carried out of the field, it is an accomplishment! Most of the time our "cash" crops (tobacco, grains, and vegetables) takes precedence over hay production.

Hay storage on most farms consists of a small, fenced corner of the meadow that is close to the gate. Forage left uncovered and unprotected from the elements is subject to significant amounts of weathering. Although this rotten portion of the bale unrolls as easily as the rest, a significant cost is incurred. Upon reviewing the VCE Crop and Livestock Enterprise Budgets, it costs approximately $56 to produce a ton of Orchardgrass/Red Clover hay. In Table 1, there is a summary of various storage methods, losses, and costs of dry matter loss per 1000-pound bale.

Table 1. Storage Loss

Storage Method % Loss per 1,000# $ Loss per 1,000#
Inside Barn 4 $1.12
Bale Sleeve 7 $1.96
Stacked with Hay Tarp 12 $3.36
Outside (no cover) 35 $9.80

Although some of these losses seem insignificant, they quickly become factors that drive up livestock production costs. For example, a 1,000-pound cow is to be wintered on hay, consuming 2.5% body weight in forage daily for 160 days. The forage required maintaining her through the winter is approximately 2 tons. Table 2 illustrates the increase in forage cost per cow due to storage method losses.

Table 2. Cost of Loss Per Cow

Storage Method Feed Cost Per Cow* Waste (tons) Increase Cost Per Cow
Inside Barn $114.48 0.08 $4.48
Bale Sleeve $119.84 0.14 $7.84
Stacked with Hay Tarp $125.44 0.24 $13.44
Outside (no cover) $151.20 0.70 $39.20
* Assumes feed cost of $56 per ton.

For a producer with 100, cows storing hay outside costs him/her an additional $3,136 compared to the producer utilizing bale sleeves. It costs $3,472 when compared to the producer who is using a barn to store hay.

Would a hay barn pay?

Many producers ponder the idea of a hay barn and occasionally ask if it would pay. After getting some barn construction estimates and doing some calculations, the idea is tempting. If bales are 5 X 5 and can be stacked similarly to the illustration at the right, the cost of the structure could potentially be recovered in 5.6 years (assuming hay was previously being stored uncovered outside). Table 3 provides cost estimates for a hay barn; one section equals five bales.

Table 3. Construction Costs

Barn Construction Costs $5.50 / square foot
25 square feet / 2.5 bales = 10 square feet per bale
$5.50 per square foot * 10 square feet = $55 per bale
$55 * 5 bales per section = $275
Forage waste from outside storage $39.20*1.25 cows fed/section = $49.00 per year loss
Structure recovery period per section ($275/$49.00) = 5.6 years

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