You’ve found good quality hay, negotiated a fair price, made the purchase and stacked your loft or shed to the brim. Congratulations, the hard work is done. Now your task is protecting your supply to preserve its quality for the months ahead.
1. Keep the water out. Assuming you’ve stacked the hay on pallets and the bales don’t touch the walls or ceiling, keeping it dry will just be a matter making sure you have no roof leaks. Head into the storage space at noon, shut all the doors and look up. If you see any pinholes of light, you’ll need to get to work patching them. Even if you don’t see any holes, regularly check your top bales for damp spots after any precipitation. (Hay stacked directly on concrete or that touches walls often becomes damp through condensation, which can be a serious problem. In that case, the best option—although not an easy one—is to re-stack the hay to keep it dry and allow air circulation.)
2. Stay on alert for wildlife. Rats, opossums and other wildlife love to overwinter amid a cozy refuge made of hay bales. Act now to make your storage area less appealing. Close up any holes in the walls, particularly in overlooked corners, and be vigilant about sweeping up spilled grain. An industrious barn cat can be a great pest deterrent, as can a black snake. When you pull bales from the space, take a look around for evidence of unwanted tenants: Droppings are an obvious sign, but tufts of fabric stolen for bedding, or chew marks on wood surfaces are also indications that you’ve got a problem.
3. Inspect each bale you use. Make it a habit to look at and sniff every bale you open before feeding it. If you’ve been caring for horses for even a short time, you know the signs of good hay: It looks bright, feels soft when you squeeze a handful and smells wonderful. Reject any bale that looks or smells moldy or otherwise funky, and take a close at other bales nearby for the source of the problem.