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    Protect Your Feed — Winter 2011 | Out Here Magazine

    Store hay and grains so that they retain nutrients

    stored hay
    Protect your hay's nutrient quality by storing out of the weather and up off the ground. Such measures keep the bales from soaking up moisture.
    Out Here

    By Heather Smith Thomas

    Photography by iStock

    Livestock feed is a large investment. Store it properly so it will keep well and won't lose quality.

    Feed that gets damp will mold or ferment. Feed exposed to weather or sunshine will lose nutrients. And if rodents have access to grain, they contaminate even more than they eat. Rodents and other small animals can spread disease (such as equine protozoal myelitis, leptospirosis, salmonella) via their urine or feces.

    Grain stored in the barn should be in a feed room with a door with a good latch, rather than in the aisle or entryway. This can prevent accidental over-consumption if one of your animals gets loose in the barn.

    Store grain in bins or mouse-proof containers with lids rather than bags. A built-in grain bin is handy, but keep the contents fresh by using up what's already in there before filling it up again. Grain that is stored very long is at risk for mold and rodent damage, and tends to lose some of its nutrient value. Grain or supplements containing vitamins A or E, or fat supplements, lose quality and nutrient content over time and become rancid.

    Rats and mice can chew through wood to get into a grain bin, unless you put rat-proof wire under the bottom, or line it with metal. Large plastic garbage cans work well for grain storage; they won't create as much moisture condensation in cold weather as metal. Always refasten the lids securely after taking out grain.

    Most of your hay supply should not be stored in the barn, to minimize fire hazard, but should be protected from weather — in a hay shed or on pallets on high ground covered with a good tarp. Hay stored outdoors should always be up off the ground or on a base of crushed rock to keep the bottom bales from soaking up moisture.

    When hay prices are high, you might be tempted to buy year-old hay for a cheaper price, but it's usually best to buy freshly harvested hay, if possible, and store it properly.

    Protecting hay from weather helps preserve nutrient quality, though long storage eventually will reduce the nutritional values.

    Some nutrients in hay deteriorate more rapidly than others. For instance, carotene — from which livestock create vitamin A — levels decline more quickly than protein levels. This can be a problem if animals are depending on hay as their only source of vitamin A, but less serious if they occasionally have access to green pasture or are fed a supplement or commercial feed containing vitamin A. It is nearly impossible to tell if hay has lost its carotene by looking at it, as it may retain its green color if it has been protected from weathering.

    When hay prices are high, you might be tempted to buy year-old hay for a cheaper price, but it's usually best to buy freshly harvested hay, if possible, and store it properly. Buy hay that was harvested under good conditions — with no mold — then keep it dry and out of the sunlight.

    Stack hay so the oldest is used first. Then you won't end up with some that was stored a long time before use. Divide the hay storage area so that when one portion is used up, you can stack new hay there while you use hay from the other area.

    If you always store your feed conscientiously, you'll be less apt to have excessive loss of nutrients, contamination, or even spoilage that might endanger the health of your animals.

    Heather Smith Thomas is the author of several livestock books.

     

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