How long can you store hay for rabbits?

Quick Answers

Hay for rabbits can typically be stored for 6-12 months if properly cured, dried, and stored. The exact shelf life depends on the type and quality of hay, storage conditions, and whether it was properly cured before baling and storing. With optimal storage conditions, high quality hay may last up to 18 months.

What Factors Affect How Long Hay Will Last?

There are several key factors that impact how long hay will remain fresh and suitable for feeding rabbits:

  • Type of hay – Legume hays like alfalfa and clover tend to lose quality faster than grass hays like timothy or orchardgrass.
  • Harvest and curing – Hay that was not thoroughly dried in the field before baling will mold faster. Ideal moisture content is around 15%.
  • Bale format – Small square bales exposed to more surface area will go stale faster than large round or rectangular bales.
  • Storage conditions – Storing hay in a dry, covered area out of sunlight and rain prevents mold growth and nutrient loss.
  • Pest damage – Insect and rodent infestations can ruin hay quality and cause spoilage.

Higher quality hay that was properly cured and stored out of the elements in an enclosed barn or shed can potentially last up to 18 months. Lower quality hay or hay stored outside may only last 6-9 months before becoming too moldy, dusty, or weathered for consumption.

Signs of Spoiled Hay

Here are some signs that stored hay for rabbits is past its prime and should be discarded:

  • Visible mold growth
  • Musty, dusty, or spoiled smell
  • Discoloration from white/green to brown
  • Loss of green color and faded appearance
  • Brittle, dried out texture instead of pliable stems
  • Presence of insects, larvae, or rodent droppings/urine

Hay that shows any of these qualities should not be fed to rabbits, as it can cause digestive upsets, appetite loss, and respiratory issues. Discard bales with substantial mold, insect infestations, or evidence of rodents.

Maximizing Hay Storage Life

Follow these best practices to get the maximum usable life out of your stored hay supply:

  • Allow cut hay to field dry until moisture content is around 15% before baling.
  • Store bales up off the ground on pallets or stacks.
  • Keep hay in a dry, enclosed shed or barn.
  • Place tarps over stacks to protect from rain and sun.
  • Check bales regularly and discard any with mold or pests.
  • Feed oldest hay first using the FIFO (first-in, first-out) principle.
  • Split open rectangular bales to check interior quality before feeding.

Hay Storage Options

Here are some common options for storing hay along with the typical length of usable storage life for each method:

Storage Method Typical Shelf Life
Enclosed barn 12-18 months
Covered hay shed 8-12 months
Tarped haystack 6-10 months
Uncovered haystack 3-6 months

Storing hay inside an enclosed barn generally provides the longest usable life by protecting it from sun, rain, and pests. Even covered stacks or tarped hay will lose quality faster than bales kept inside.

Monitoring Your Hay Supply

To avoid running out of edible hay, monitor your rabbitry’s supply closely and follow this timeline as a guide:

  • 2 months before hay runs out – Inspect bales and order new hay for next season’s supply.
  • 6 weeks out – Begin feeding from new hay supply to transition rabbits.
  • 1 month out – Intensify inspections and remove any bales showing mold or insects.
  • 2 weeks out – Consider reducing hay rations slightly to conserve supply.
  • 1 week out – Feed hay free choice to empty out old supply.

Following this schedule helps ensure you don’t run out of usable hay and have time to transition rabbits slowly onto fresh hay. Reduce waste by feeding oldest hay first and planning new purchases strategically.

Purchasing High Quality Hay

Here are some tips for selecting high quality hay for long term storage:

  • Grass hay – Timothy, orchardgrass, oat, or brome hay will store longer than alfalfa or clover.
  • Early cuttings – First and second cut hay is higher in nutrients than later cuttings.
  • Proper curing – Look for hay that was dried down to 15% moisture before baling.
  • Leafiness – Hay with a high leaf-to-stem ratio will be more nutritious.
  • Color – Select greener colored bales over faded brown hay.
  • Smell – Bale should have fresh, sweet grassy smell, not musty odor.

Ask the grower about their cutting and curing practices. Inspect bales thoroughly and avoid any that feel damp, look discolored, or smell musty prior to purchasing.

Storing Hay for Winter

It’s important to stock up on enough hay in the summer and fall to feed rabbits through the winter. Here are some winter hay storage tips:

  • Allow extra drying time for late summer cuttings before baling & storing.
  • Keep freshly baled hay in a well ventilated area for 1-2 weeks before stacking.
  • Place bales on wooden pallets or tires to prevent contact with damp ground.
  • Store hay in an enclosed, dry area like a shed or barn.
  • Completely cover hay stacks with a tarp, leaving ends open for ventilation.
  • Inspect stacks monthly and remove any bales with mold or moisture.

With proper planning and storage, you can successfully keep hay in excellent condition through cold winter months to feed your rabbits.

Using Old or Rain-Damaged Hay

While moldy, spoiled hay should not be fed to rabbits, slightly lower quality hay can still be utilized if handled properly:

  • Soaking – Soak molded hay in water to leach out toxins, then allow it to fully dry before feeding.
  • Mixing – Mix and blend poorer quality hay in small amounts with fresh green hay.
  • Limit exposure – Only offer lower quality hay for a few hours at night when rabbits won’t consume as much.
  • Bedding – Use lightly molded bales for rabbit bedding instead of feeding.

Monitor rabbits closely when introducing any treated or rain-damaged hay, and discontinue use if any digestion or health issues arise.

Fermenting Hay as Silage

Hay that was baled slightly wet can be preserved through ensiling and fermentation to create silage. Here is the process:

  1. Chop damp hay finely to compact tightly.
  2. Pack chopped hay tightly into an airtight container like a trash can.
  3. Weigh down hay to remove air pockets and seal lid.
  4. Allow 4-6 weeks for fermentation process to complete.
  5. Check silage pH and smell to confirm proper fermentation.
  6. Store sealed container in cool, dark area until ready to feed.

Introduce silage gradually to rabbit diets, as the fermentation process creates acids and alcohols that can upset sensitive digestive systems. Limit silage to 10-20% of total ration when transitioning.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs that stored hay has gone bad?

Visible mold growth, musty odors, color changes from green to brown, presence of insects or rodents, and brittle, dried out texture are all signs hay has spoiled and should not be fed to rabbits.

Should hay be stored in plastic tarps or breathable tarps?

Breathable tarps are preferable, as they allow some moisture to escape while still protecting bales from rain. Plastic tarps tend to trap condensation, encouraging mold growth.

How can you tell if hay moisture is low enough for storage?

Hay should feel dry to the touch when squeezed and should not release moisture. Optimal baling moisture is around 15%. Hay that feels damp is too wet for long term storage.

What are the best hay varieties for long term storage?

Grass hays like timothy, orchardgrass, oat, and brome tend to store better long term than legume hays like alfalfa and clover. Avoid overly leafy, high moisture hay.

Should you remove strings from hay bales for storage?

No, the strings help maintain bale shape and density. Removing strings can cause bales to break apart, creating air pockets that encourage spoilage.


With proper harvesting, curing, and storage methods, high quality hay can remain fresh and suitable for rabbits for up to 12-18 months. Store bales off the ground in a covered, dry, well-ventilated area out of sunlight and moisture. Inspect hay regularly and discard any bales that appear moldy or damaged. Following best practices allows you to buy hay in bulk for year-round rabbit feeding while minimizing waste and spoilage.

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