You might assume storing small square hay bales is a fairly simple process. Don’t you just stack them any which way in a sheltered building and feed them one by one until the annual crop has been consumed?
Yes and no. It sounds logical in theory, and with a bit of planning it can be a simplistic approach to strive for. But the truth is, not all hay is the same.
Different fields might yield different types of hay—alfalfa, for example, or clover. Some bales might be from the first cutting of a field and others from a second cutting. The difference can be significant, with bales from second cuttings generally being denser and more nutritious.
Even a small-scale farm can produce a wide variety of hay over the course of a season. And stacking it all together in one building can make it difficult to remember which bales are which as you feed them—or sell them—over the course of a year.
Farmers experienced in dealing with hay can determine a lot just by the physical appearance of each bale. But a more foolproof approach is to keep accurate records and mark hay bales in some manner.
That way you can easily identify later on which are which.
If you have an abundance of storage space, the simplest solution is to create one stack for each field and/or cutting and mark each stack accordingly.
But sheltered storage spaces are usually at a premium on farms. So if space constraints require you to stack all your hay together, an alternative is to divide the master stack into sections. One corner can be reserved for Field A, another corner for Field B, etc.
Is there a noticeable difference in the appearance of adjacent bales? Then it will be easy to distinguish in the future where one section of the stack transitions to the next. If the bales are similar in appearance, consider placing markers within the stack to delineate the boundary. You can use pieces of cardboard a or a long strand of baling twine.
Speaking of baling twine, if you really want to get fancy, color-coded baling twine can be a terrific way to mark hay bales from different fields and cuttings.
Polypropylene baling twine comes in many different colors. By switching the color in your baler each time you switch fields, every bale you produce will be marked unmistakably in a manner that can be gauged at a glance.
Whether you adopt one of these approaches or develop a different technique that suits your specific situation, the key is to be diligent in your recordkeeping.
Color-coded twines and separate stacks for different fields are helpful only if you write down the secrets of your careful organization. Eight months after baling your hay, you don’t want to be scratching your head trying to remember if the green twine marks the first cutting of Field E or the second cutting of Field B. Or if the stack on the western end of the barn is the third cutting of Field A, or the first cutting of Field B.
In short, a little organization can go a long way. Good luck during hay season!