Farmers who count on hay to supplement their income cannot afford to lose any of their crop. Hay prices seldom experience a lot of fluctuation, and growers do worry about mold and combustion. They do not need additional problems created by critters who happen to find their hay crops inviting. Farmers know that sometimes those critters can be so challenging that they need an additional layer of help so hay tarps can do their job successfully.
Hay stacks should definitely be covered by something. Whether that something is a collection of hay tarps or the roof of a barn, that is entirely up to the farmer, but keeping hay covered is essential to protecting its value. Then other measures should be taken if critters become a problem. For the purposes of illustration, we will talk about rabbits, elk, and deer.
Rabbits in Idaho
Over this past winter and spring, there were numerous reports out of Idaho involving an exploding jack rabbit population. Apparently, jack rabbit populations in the Gem State are cyclical in nature. Every 4 to 5 years there is a population explosion that causes big problems for hay farmers. The winter of 2016/2017 proved to be one with a significant jack rabbit population.
The rabbits are not afraid to help themselves to hay stacks when winter weather prevents them from foraging elsewhere. The problem was so bad this past winter that growers had to take to patrolling their hay stacks during the overnight hours to keep the animals away. Some were going so far as to hire friends and family members to take shifts so that coverage would be there all night.
Rabbits cause problems with hay in two ways. First, they chew around the base of hay stacks as they feed. Extensive chewing will destabilize a stack, potentially causing it to come crashing down. Even if that doesn’t happen, there’s a second problem: chewing rabbits can break through baling twine with no problem at all. The combination of instability and broken twine makes loading hay bales a lot more difficult.
Elk and Deer
When elk and deer are a problem for hay stacks, it could be for one of two reasons. First is the same kind of problem that the jack rabbits create. Foraging elk and deer destabilize hay stacks whenever they feed. The destabilization isn’t usually a serious though because elk and deer feed higher up on the stack. But there is a second issue that can create bigger headaches.
Elk and deer have a habit of getting their antlers entangled in hay tarps and anchor ropes. If they get tangled too tightly, they can completely rip down a hay tarp in an attempt to escape. Then the farmer has to replace the tarp and rope in addition to working on any damage done to his property and the hay stack.
So what are hay farmers to do? In Idaho, the Department of Fish and Game has already funded programs for farmers looking to fence their hay stacks. The right kind of fencing can keep deer and elk out. The department may look into funding a solution for the jack rabbits next winter if it looks like another year of unusually high numbers of rabbits.
A jack rabbit solution would be something similar to a mesh screen that could be placed around the base of a stack. Combining both a mesh screen and a decent fence could all but eliminate the risk of critters harming stored hay. Then it would be back to ensuring hay tarps are deployed in such a way as to protect against moisture and debris.
Capital Press – http://www.capitalpress.com/Idaho/20170306/east-idaho-hay-farmers-lose-sleep-over-jackrabbits