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Outdoor Hay Storage Ideas: Keeping Hay Without A Barn

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These outdoor hay storage ideas are sure to spark your creativity and excitement in considering the addition of livestock to your farm or homestead. Whether you’re looking for ideas on how to store hay through the winter without a barn, or just wondering if it’s even possible to properly store hay outdoors, you’re in the right place.

It is absolutely possible to properly store hay outside, and for minimal investment. I’m going to give some hay storage ideas that you can employ right away as you prepare to add cows, sheep, pigs, or any other livestock to your homestead.

It’s so important to store hay properly in order to avoid mold and mildew, and also to maintain its optimum nutritional value. So let’s talk about how to store hay without a barn.

man loading square hay bales on trailer with children

benefits of storing hay outside

Storing hay outdoors can be a practical and cost-effective solution for homesteaders and farmers lacking hay barns. In fact, storing hay outside can provide extra flexibility and potential.

One benefit of storing hay outdoors is the savings on construction costs. By choosing outdoor storage, you can eliminate the need for expensive barns or sheds. This frees up funds for other essential aspects of farming, like a bigger garden, adding more low-maintenance animals, or investing into your next homestead business venture. Many of us are looking for ways to homestead more frugally, and this is a simple way to do so.

Additionally, outdoor hay storage offers improved ventilation. As hay bales are exposed to natural airflow, it aids in moisture dissipation, reducing the possibility of mold and rot. Well-ventilated hay bales will stay dry and maintain their nutritional value, so your livestock remains healthy and productive.

Proper outdoor hay storage also allows for easy accessibility. It’s important to be able to readily transport bales when needed.

Take these basic protective measures to get the most out of your outdoor hay storage:

  • Place the bales on raised surfaces, like pallets, to prevent ground moisture from seeping in
  • Use high-quality tarps to cover the hay, keeping it dry and shielding it from the elements
  • Stack the bales in a way that allows air circulation and avoids excessive pressure on bottom bales

Following these 3 simple steps will send you toward successful outdoor hay storage!

pyramid stack of round hay bales

using wooden pallets in hay storage

Using pallets in your outdoor hay storage is a great way to ensure the longevity and quality of your hay. Wooden pallets, in particular, offer several benefits that make them essential to an efficient hay storage system.

Wooden pallets provide a sturdy, moisture-resistant foundation for your hay. By elevating hay off the ground, you create an effective barrier against moisture. This helps to keep your hay dry and reduces the risk of mold growth and spoilage.

In addition to moisture prevention, wooden pallets also promote excellent air circulation. When hay bales are stacked on pallets, air can flow freely around them, allowing any existing moisture to evaporate quickly.

One of the main benefits of wooden pallets is their affordability and availability. Wooden pallets are relatively inexpensive compared to other materials, and they are easy to find. In fact, they can usually be found for free with just a little bit of effort. Just ask around some local businesses. Or if you must, purchase them through a pallet supplier. 

Implementing wooden pallets in your hay storage area is a simple step that can make a big difference in the overall quality and safety of your hay.

wrapped round bales of hay in storage

why hay covers are essential

Hay covers are a must when it comes to outdoor hay storage. A canvas tarp, reusable plastic tarp, hard plastic covering, and thick plastic bags or wraps are all examples of hay covers.

Coverings shield your hay from direct sunlight, which can cause it to become dry and brittle, resulting in potential nutritional loss. Of course, having an enclosed barn of some kind is ideal. But, as you know if you’re reading this post, a hay storage building isn’t feasible in every situation.

Top covers protect your hay from rain and moisture. Choose any one of the examples above. I personally like large plastic tarps for the ease factor. But there are several options available on the market specifically designed for long-term use.

When selecting a top cover, consider these factors:

  • Material: Choose a cover made of durable, UV-resistant material to withstand harsh sunlight and other weather conditions.
  • Size: Make sure that the cover is large enough to completely cover the stack of hay.
  • Ventilation: Look for covers that allow for adequate airflow to prevent excessive heat and moisture buildup.

By taking these factors into account, you’ll be able to find the perfect top cover to protect your hay and maintain its quality for extended periods.

hay storage techniques and ideas

Storing hay outdoors might seem like a good idea, but it can quickly lead to moldy hay if not done correctly. Moldy hay is not only unappealing but also harmful to your livestock’s health. When it comes to outdoor hay storage, there are several things you need to do to protect your hay and preserve its quality.

Firstly, choose the right location for your hay storage. Select an area where water doesn’t pool. As previously mentioned, elevate the hay off the ground using pallets or a base layer of straw/old hay to prevent moisture absorption from the ground.

Secondly, stack the bales properly. There are different ways to arrange bales in order to allow air circulation between them, like the pyramid-stack or the mushroom-stack.

Next, cover your hay. Invest in a good-quality tarp that is waterproof, UV-resistant, and breathable. Secure it on top and around the sides of your hay stack. 

In addition, check the moisture content of your hay before storing it. Hay with a moisture content of 15% or less is less likely to develop mold. You can purchase a moisture meter to ensure your hay is dry enough for storage.

Lastly, inspect your hay regularly. Keep an eye out for signs of mold, pests, or any other potential issues. And if you do spot moldy hay, remove it right away to prevent it from spreading to the other bales.

square bales in outdoor hay storage

large round bales vs. square bales

Large round bales are a common choice for many farmers due to their convenience and efficiency. However, large bales can pose challenges when it comes to storing that much hay without a separate building. If you’re looking for ease of storage and transport, small square bales may be the best option for you.

If you do choose to go with round bales though, the same basic principles of proper hay storage apply. Follow these tips for storing large round bales outdoors:

  • Choose a well-drained area: Select a location with good drainage to avoid moisture buildup. Sloped or slightly elevated areas are best.
  • Use a ground cover: Place a ground cover like gravel, pallets, or other moisture barrier to prevent ground moisture from wicking into the bales.
  • Stack bales strategically: Stack bales in a way that minimizes their exposure to the elements. One idea is to create rows with bales end-to-end, leaving about 3-4 feet of space between rows for airflow. Orient the rows to maximize sunlight exposure, so bales dry out more quickly.
  • Cover the bales: Use tarps or plastic to protect your hay from water and sunlight damage. Secure the covers to prevent them from blowing away.

Keep in mind that these hay storage strategies work for straw bales, as well.

By following these suggestions, you will find success in maintaining the quality of your hay and ensuring its longevity for animal consumption. Remember, always monitor your hay for signs of spoilage and adjust your storage techniques as necessary. Hay is an investment, and it’s worth protecting!

alternate ideas for storing hay

Need more location ideas for your hay storage? Consider these:

  • If you have a garage with the space, you can store hay there. Just make sure it gets good airflow.
  • An existing storage shed can be used to store hay bales. As small-scale homesteaders, this is exactly what we used to store hay for our cow.
  • In a pinch, hay can be stored in plastic totes and kept outside, but I wouldn’t use this as a long-term solution.
woman sitting on pile of square hay bales

frequently asked questions

What are some budget-friendly ways to store hay outdoors?

Storing hay on a budget is possible. You can use low-cost materials like tarps and pallets to create a simple storage system. A basic system for keeping hay is to place it on pallets to keep it off the ground, then cover it with a waterproof tarp. Make sure to secure the tarp with bungee cords or weights to protect it from wind and rain. Proper ventilation is necessary, so leave some space between the tarp and pallets to keep your hay dry and fresh.

What are some suitable hay storage options for small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs?

For small animals, you don’t need to store large quantities of hay. You can use plastic containers, bins, or totes with tight-fitting lids to keep the hay dry and protected from pests. When storing hay, place it in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight and off the bare ground.

How long does hay last when stored outdoors?

Hay’s longevity outdoors depends on several things: storage conditions, climate, and hay quality. In general, well-stored and protected hay can last for more than a year. However, constant exposure to the elements can significantly shorten its shelf life. The best way to extend the life of older hay is to monitor and maintain proper storage conditions: keep it dry, protected from pests, and well-ventilated.

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