How to Stack Hay

Two Methods:Stacking Pattern #1Stacking Pattern #2

Stacking hay is no easy task. Not only does it require you to use every muscle in your body, but you also have to take steps to make sure that your stack is sturdy and safe. Follow these steps to build a tower of square bales with your own two hands that any farmer can be proud of.


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    Grab the bale by the strings, with one hand on each string. Wear leather gloves if you're doing a lot, or use hay hooks.
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    Lift with your legs, not so much with your back or arms. Lean the bale against your pelvis as you carry it to the stacking area or to the next person.
    • Toss a bale if you're strong or daring enough, but don't expect the person you're tossing it to to catch it. You'll probably knock them over instead. Toss it so that it'll land near them, not on them.
    • You can also move the bales with a handtruck (dolly). Tip the bale on end. Lean it about 10 degrees, and put it on the handtruck. Using hay hooks can help stabilize the load.
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    Drop the bale on the floor or on a pallet to start your first layer.
    • Stack your bales "edge side up." The strings should be on the sides, rather than the top and bottom. The stems should run vertically, and the top of the bale when it's stacked properly will feel sharp and jagged. An easy way to remember is to refer to this side as the "cut side up".
    • Build the stack to its full footprint and then build from the corners toward the middle, making sure to keep the corners square and plumb, to assure stability when the stack gets very high (20 layers).
    • Tuck your bales tightly together. You can usually put them loosely in their spot and kick them firmly into place, especially if it's a tight spot. You can also shove the bale in with your knee, which would be safer.
    • Avoid stacking bales that are loose, or have a broken string. They will threaten the stability of the stack. Save them for the top of the stack, or put them aside to be used first. You could repair it if you have available string. Hold down the bale with your knee and tie a replacement string onto the existing string on the end of the bale and wrap it around the length of the bale and tie at the other end.
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    Follow a stacking pattern given below. Make sure the stack height does not exceed 1.5 times the shortest base dimension. For example, if the stack is 20 feet (6.1 m) wide and 40 feet (12.2 m) long, the height should not exceed 30 feet (9.1 m).

Method 1
Stacking Pattern #1

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    Stack your first layer with all the bales lengthwise.
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    Stack your second layer (shown colored in light green) with all the bales width-wise (perpendicular to the first layer.
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    Continue alternating as in the first two layers.
    • This is the simplest way to stack hay, and therefore the easiest for the stacking team to follow. But, it is not the most stable.
    • Vertically, the bales will form four-bale columns, and between these columns, the stack can collapse (as indicated by the red lines in the above diagram). If you are not making a very tall stack (4 bales or less), this won't be as much of an issue.

Method 2
Stacking Pattern #2

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    Put a bale in the corner width-wise.
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    Stack two bales next to it lengthwise.
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    Continue stacking all the bales next to the corner bale length-wise until you get to the wall or the edge of your stack.
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    Stack the other corner bale width-wise, finishing off a row that runs from left to right and is two bales thick.
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    Stack the next row, two bales widths thick, in front of it (closer to you) with ALL the bales lengthwise.
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    Stack the next row after that just like the first, as if it had corner bales.
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    Follow the same pattern for the second layer, except that it is flipped on its side. Put a bale in the corner lengthwise, then stack a row of two bales in front of it width-wise, etc.
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    Start the next layer as you did the first and continue alternating patterns.
    • While difficult to get used to, this pattern will maximize stability by crossing bales over each other perpendicularly and thus "locking" them together.
    • Use this method to make very high stacks, especially on lofts, to prevent it from collapsing and to help keep the people who have to stand on top of it safe.


  • If you have any allergies at all, take an antihistamine before you start. They don't call it "hay fever" for nothing.
  • The patterns given assume a rectangular bale that when edge side up, is twice as long as it is wide. It is possible, however, to have bales that are three times long as they are wide. These patterns can be adapted to that variation by making rows that are three bale widths thick rather than two.
  • To understand the stability of a stacking pattern, imagine looking down from the top (as in the diagrams) and trying to cut a giant knife from top to bottom; with the simple pattern, it'd be easy to cut right through the red lines, but with the second pattern, you'll bump into crossing bales at every other layer.
  • The reason hay is stacked edge side up is because moisture can drain more easily, and fires as well as mold or fungus are less likely to be a problem. The drawback is that the stack might be less stable unless you use a good stacking technique. An alternative is to stack the bottom layer on edge, then stack the rest of them twines up (flat).
  • If you're stuck with worrisome wet bales, stack them edge-side up with 6 inches (15.2 cm) between them all around. Sprinkle salt generously on top of them (salt will draw out the moisture) and make sure they are in a barn with cross circulation. Do not stack them in layers. Use them up as quickly as possible.
  • You can practice without bales by using Lego pieces where the length is twice the width (and preferably the height is the same as the width). Try making a stack with the first pattern, and knock it over. Then make one with the second pattern, and try to knock it over. Which one would you rather be standing on if it's 40 or 50 feet (12.2 or 15.2 m) high and on a hayloft?


  • Sometimes hay is thorny, so consider wearing gloves. That is, unless you don't mind spending thirty minutes poking your skin with a knife or a needle to remove a pesky thorn.
  • If the bale feels particularly heavy with moisture, set it aside. Spontaneous combustion is a reality when it comes to hay, and one bale can burn down an entire barn. Consider getting a moisture probe to test your bales and make sure they won't threaten your harvest.
  • Periodically sweep the loose hay from the floor. The last thing you need to do is slip on a patch of hay while you're carrying a bale.

Sources and Citations

  • The techniques outlined in the first revision of this article were taught to the originating author by farmer Lee Kelly, who derived his stacking technique from experience and the wisdom of many other farmers.
  • Haying FAQ - Why and how to grow and cut your own hay. Research source.

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