If you're in the market for hay storage, there's a relatively new option to consider: the hoop barn, a steel-framed, fabric-covered building.

Hoop barns have become popular as livestock housing on hog farms and dairies. Now, hay growers like Rich Domask are utilizing these low-cost structures, too.

Domask, Iola, WI, grows 200 acres of hay, baling it in big square bales. He had his 30 × 54' hoop barn built four or five years ago to help hold the quality of the hay he sells to dairies.

“Anytime you keep it under a roof, it's better-quality hay. I thought, costwise, that the hoop barn was the best option for us because we already had a cement floor. All we did was have poles put on the sides and the roof put on,” he says.

When investigating the costs of any storage structure, first consider what you may have or can do to keep costs down, says Gordon Groover, an ag economist with Virginia Cooperative Extension. Groover has studied the economics of hoop barns vs. pole or post-frame buildings.

“The hoop barn's big advantage is the cost itself,” he says. “But farmers in the eastern half of the U.S. may have timber on their farms. They've got neighbors with portable saw mills and if they can trade lumber for sawing it up, then the cost of the pole barn gets pretty cheap.”

Growers should also figure out how many tons of storage they may need. In Groover's 2003 study, he determined annual storage costs for a 40 × 80 × 25' hoop barn at $1,874 or $15.61/ton as compared to $2,210 or $18.41/ton for a 24 × 72 × 17' pole barn.

He assumed 120 tons of storage for both types of structures. But in part because of its domed roof, the hoop barn offers a range of 100-300 tons of possible storage; the pole barn, 100-200.

“Estimating storage space depends on the density of the hay, how tight we tighten down equipment and how much the hay weighs. Small changes in the diameter or density of a bale can make tremendous differences in the storage capacity of a structure,” he says.

“If you are putting bales up under ideal conditions and moisture levels, you can store a lot more than if you aren't.”

Under Groover's assumptions, the hoop barn has the advantage. “But it depends on how much you store and the kind of storage package, small round vs. large round bales vs. large or small rectangular bales. And the equipment — would it be capable of handling bales in these structures?”

If a grower doesn't have and won't consider buying a loader that can stack bales to make use of a hoop barn's domed ceiling, that type of building may not have much of an advantage, he adds.

A grower who sells hay quickly out of a storage structure, to the point where he would be filling it multiple times, can cut fixed costs drastically, Groover says. “If it cost me $15/ton based on 120 tons and I move 220 tons through that structure, then my cost per ton of storage is nearly cut in half.”

The hoop barn isn't without fault. If a grower wants to segregate hay by quality, a pole barn may be a better option. Hay in hoop barns can only be accessed from the ends of the barn.

Maintenance on a hoop barn includes regularly checking the tension on the fabric walls and, once in a while, patching a fabric rip or tear. Domask says he's had no upkeep problems.

“I've been very satisfied with it. It's the most economical way we could have gone and it helps with the sale of our product,” he adds.