Build an Inexpensive Hay Shed
Protect Your Investment
By Heather Smith Thomas
Reading Time: 6 minutes
There are many ways to store hay and protect it from the weather, but some methods are more reliable than others. Some people put hay in their barns, but there is always the risk of fire when feed is stored in a barn, especially if hay is ever baled with too much moisture in it, causing fermentation and heating (which can lead to spontaneous combustion). It’s always safer to store hay somewhere else, not putting the barn and livestock at risk.
Tarping a Stack
Sometimes hay can be adequately protected with tarps, particularly if it’s not going to be stored very long. Put on wooden pallets, or on a well-drained site that will not wick moisture into the bottom bales, and tarping the top, can often keep spoilage to a minimum. Covering a large stack with tarps, however, can be a major undertaking, requiring several people to tarp it.
In a climate with a lot of moisture, it helps if the tarps can be somewhat sloped to allow the water to run off rather than pooling and possibly running down through a hole into the hay. A “ridgepole” of straw bales along the center of the top of the stack can create a slope for the tarp roof, tying the tarps down to the sides of the stack with hay twines. This works fairly well, but over winter some leaks can develop, and there is also spoilage down the sides as rain or melting snow run off. In wet years a fair amount of hay can be ruined in spite of good tarps.
Building a Hay Shed
A good hay shed can be paid for in just a few years by preventing the hay losses that occur with tarping a stack, and eliminating the risk of feeding damaged hay. Hay that gets wet from rain or melting snow can mold. Mold can cause digestive problems in livestock when eaten—especially in horses that may develop colic. Toxins in some types of mold can cause abortion in pregnant animals. Dust and mold spores in weather-damaged hay can also cause respiratory problems. Keeping your hay dry is the best way to ensure that it will not pose health risks to your animals.
Lumber is expensive, but a polebarn hay shed can be built fairly cheaply, using tall posts for the supports and poles for the rafters and roof trusses. A very simple pole barn can be made using well-treated posts, 21 feet long and 10 to 12 inches in diameter. A tractor loader can be used to lift each post (chaining it to the loader bucket) to set it into its hole. After setting the posts more than three feet in the ground, their final height is about 17.5 feet high above the ground. This makes the shed tall enough to stack the hay inside it with a tilt-up stack wagon. Posts should be set every 12 feet. A person can build a square shed 24 x 24 feet with an open front, or make the shed as long as needed to cover a longer haystack.
After the posts are set, a few poles can be nailed up along the side and back wall of the hay shed to tie the structure together and provide a place to put boards to use as scaffolding to stand on for bracing the shed and starting to build the roof. The poles at the back provide the backstop to stack hay against when it is unloaded from a stack wagon. Before putting on the roof, a few loads of hay can be put in the shed after the back wall is built, to give something to stand on while starting to make the roof.
Long poles (six to eight-inch diameter) can be used to make the roof trusses, building them on the ground. It’s much easier to build them on the ground than to try to construct them at the top of the shed. Each truss has a four-foot peak, and the poles creating them should be bolted together on the outside ends, where the top pieces join the bottom pole. The trusses can be braced with a triangular configuration to make them sturdy and secure.
The big challenge is getting these big heavy trusses up to the top of the hay shed. For this task, on a hayshed my husband and I built 10 years ago, my husband made a special boom to attach to his tractor loader bucket, to extend its reach about 12 feet higher (making the loader able to raise something as much as 25 feet off the ground). One at a time, we hooked each truss to this tractor loader-boom and carried it to the hay shed, with the help of several friends. With ropes attached to the ends of the truss, so a person on each end could help guide it (while being safely out of the way and not underneath it if anything broke), the boom lifted each truss into place, where it could then be secured by a person up on the top of the structure.
The trusses we built are strapped onto the support posts with 1.5 inch by 3/16 inch metal pieces, bent over the truss pole and securely nailed to the sides of the support posts; thus the wind can never lift the roof off. The shed is also braced securely with poles on the underside of the roof in several directions.
Before we put the roof on, we stacked the hay under the shed, to give us a “floor” to work on and a safety area, so if someone slipped, they could not fall clear to the ground. We used four-inch diameter poles for the rafters, choosing very straight poles to make as flat a surface as possible for the roofing metal to rest upon. If poles are not available, 2 x 6-inch lumber can be used for the rafters.
The rafter poles span 12 feet, with two feet between rafters. The trusses overhang the shed structure to create a two-foot overhang on each side, to give the haystack within the shed more protection from driving rain or snow. Since the stacks inside the shed do not come clear out to the outer wall, this gives about six feet of overhang protection for the hay. The sides of the stack do not get wet at all under normal conditions, and even a very windy storm will only dampen them and they quickly dry out—nothing like the soaking run-off from tarps.
We used metal sheeting for the roof. This was put on in sections, using long screws to secure the metal sheets to the pole rafters (going deep into the poles) so it will never blow off. Melting snow slides off the metal roof and the hay stays completely dry underneath. We no longer have any spoilage in the top bales of our stack and none in the bottom—since we built up the area and hauled in coarse gravel for a base after we set the tall posts. The gravel provides good drainage, and with the built-up base, no moisture subs in from surrounding areas. In the years we’ve had the hay shed, it has more than paid for itself in preventing waste from moisture damaged hay.
Scenes from a hay shed raising:
Originally published in the November/December 2007 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.