STORING HAYSafely storing your hay will not only prolong the life span and maintain the quality of the hay you purchase it will also ensure you guinea pigs are being offered the freshest hay possible. When stored correctly hay will maintain its nutritional value thus ensuring your cavies staple contains the essential vitamins and minerals required.Location When choosing an area or method of storing your hay whether it be by the bale or biscuit, it is essential you follow the below guide to reduce storage loss: Store in a well drained area – Always ensure the area in which you store your hay is dry. Moisture content can result in mildew, fungi and will cause the hay to become no longer suitable for consumption. Moisture content plays a large role in hay storage and is discussed in full below. Adequate air circulation – Allow your hay to “breathe”. Do not store your hay in air tight tubs or containers as this will cause the hay to ferment and encourage the growth of mould. If hay is to be stored in air tight containers you must ensure the moisture content of your hay is at a very low level preferably below 15%. The addition of holes in the lid is also recommended. Free from mould, mildew or pests – Do not store you hay in an environment where it will easily be exposed to mould, mildew or pests. A clean, dry environment is ideal. Moisture Content in Hay and LucerneOnce hay as been harvested like all plant matter hay continues to “breathe” until the moisture content falls below 40%. Once bales have been cured most will be warm to the touch primarily due to the reactions of microbes and plant cells within the bale. This heat will usually decrease within 4 – 5 days. Once the heating and cooling process is complete (this may take up to several weeks) the moisture content of the bale should have reduced to approximately 15%. The more heat a bale produces the more nutrients it will lose. According to the Department of Primary Industries in Victoria the below table indicates nutrient loss due to heat within the bale: Table 2. Nutrient losses caused by heating of hay Maximum stack temperatureLoss of digestible protein (%)Loss of energy (%)Up to 45°CNil5-1045° to 55°C10-305-1555° to 70°C30-8015-3070° to 75°C10040-70Source: Simmons & Simpendorfer (1979) When looking for a good quality hay it is important to avoid hay that is is dry, dusty, or very brown in the centre. All hay can undergo sun bleaching i.e. one part of the hay is exposed to the sun resulting in loss of colour. However if the centre of the hay is lush, green and has a strong sweet smell this will provide you with an indication that the bale that has not been cured when too moist resulting in overheating and loss of nutrients, or if dusty this could indicate the hay has been exposed to rain thus it may contain mould spores and mildew. When storing hay it is important to ensure your moisture content is as low as possible to prevent heating, causing loss of nutrients or mildew and mould growth. Provide adequate air flow via storing your hay off the ground. Air should be able to circulate your hay underneath as well as above. Pallets can be used, racks for very large bales or Hessian/cloth bags which allow the hay to breathe. Methods for Inside StorageStoring hay inside can be a difficult due to strands becoming loose and essentially you will be finding hay everywhere!However the below storage methods have worked for many owners. Some people tend to choose a combination of methods depending where their hay is stored: Laundry Baskets: Wicker baskets with cloth lining can be used to store hay. The material lining allows the air to circulate sufficiently. Laundry baskets made from durable material on wheels are also an excellent idea as the basket can be wheeled over to your cavies cage for efficient hay distribution. ProsEase of accessAllows Air CirculationBlends in with household ConsOnly used for indoor storageMay not be able to store large bales______________________________________Cardboard Boxes: Cardboard helps absorb moisture and with the addition of holes can be used to store hay long term as this will provide adequate air circulation. Cardboard boxes can be obtained from retail stores and some supermarkets for free. ProsAdequate Air CirculationAbsorbs excess moisture Ideal for fresh hay (not very dry)InexpensiveWell known material to purchaseConsLarge box may be difficult to storeBox modified for air circulation______________________________________Plastic Tubs: Large plastic storage tubs can be used to store hay efficiently. Two large 60L tubs are used by some owners to subsequently store one bale of hay or equal to eleven biscuits. Tubs can be purchased with wheels for ease of access. However unlike cardboard plastic does not absorb moisture, so it is necessary to place some small holes in the lid or sides, of any tubs used. This will allow air to circulate within the container to prevent the growth of mold.ProsStackableVariety of sizesWaterproofDurableConsNon absorbentTubs modified for Air Circulation______________________________________Hessian Bags: These strong, durable bags are an excellent natural way to store hay. The course fibres allow air to circulate whilst the thick cloth deflects direct sunlight promoting longevity of hay. Hessian bags are 100% environmentally friendly and bio-degradable. They can be purchased from local produce stores and are fairly inexpensive. Pros100% natural vegetable fibre100% bio-degradableVariety of sizesBreathableInexpensiveStrongDurableConsMay fray after time/useNot as accessible as tubs, hampersMethods for Outdoor StorageWhen storing hay outside it is vitally important to ensure:Hay is undercoverProtected from the outside elementsStored off the groundAccess to air circulationKept away from pests, mice and other insectsStored in a dry environmentStack your hay - more hay is then off the groundStack in a pyramid shape -- promotes moisture run offUnlike indoor storage outside storage does pose certain issues in regards to exposure to the elements, however, if stored correctly hay can last quite adequately outdoors. Wooden pallets/Tarps: When storing hay outdoors always ensure you store your hay off the ground. A great way to achieve this is via wooden pallets. Pallets have a sections of wood which are positioned in a criss crossing action. This allows adequate air flow causing the base of the hay to remain dry preventing the growth of mould. Tarps can also cover the hay creating a waterproof barrier whilst also protecting the hay from direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will cause hay to lose nutrients affecting the palatability and nutritional value of the hay. Pallets can be purchased from produce stores or supermarkets may have some for free. ProsPallets allow air flowWaterproofAvoids direct sunlightConsHay needs to be stacked correctlyTarp needs to be secured stronglyStoring hay correctly whether indoors or outdoors will ensure you hay remains fresh, promotes longevity and will enable your guinea pigs to enjoy their daily staple.