Across the state of Texas, the month of September typically produces the last cuttings of hay for the year. Many horseowners have just purchased enough hay to get through the winter and into the spring.
The hot August and early September weather allowed hay to be cut and cured out well in many areas of the state. But proper storage of this hay is key to maintaining freshness and avoiding mold.
Horseowners who have plans to store hay through the winter will need to be sure square bales are stacked on palates or boards to elevate them off the ground. This usually keeps ground moisture from ruining the bottom row of bales. It also allows for some air circulation, which is important for continued freshness.
If possible, hay should be stacked as loosely as possible, allowing air to move through the stack. Loose versus tight stacking decreases overall storage capacity of a given area, but it can help keep hay from developing mold. Also, it greatly decreases the chance for spontaneous combustion in freshly baled hay.
Horse hay is often stored in tin or metal buildings. In certain areas of the state, the roof of such a structure may sweat, allowing moisture to drip down on the top row of bales. Placing a weatherproof tarp between the roof and hay can help preserve these top bales from mold caused by moisture damage.
Hay that smells the least bit moldy or musty should not be fed to horses. A white or bluish powdery appearance and excessive dust may indicate mold. Horses that are not overly hungry often refuse to eat moldy roughage if given a choice. However, hungry horses will consume moldy hay, which can cause health problems.
Before round bales are made available to horses, the outer layer of spoiled or weathered hay may need to be removed.
It's a bit of a challenge to manage stored hay so that it remains suitable for consumption by horses. Barns need to be closed in enough to keep moisture off the hay, yet open enough to allow some air flow. Horseowners in the more humid areas of Texas will have to work a little harder at keeping hay fresh. However, keeping stored hay off the ground, dry and well-ventilated can save hundreds of dollars in spoilage and maintain nutrient value.
EDDIE BAGGS, extension agent with the Texas AgriLife Extension office in Denton County, can be reached at 940-349-2880.