Not every horse homestead has access to a well-ventilated barn to store horse feed, particularly hay. Hay takes up a large amount of space and usually needs to be stored for a fairly long period of time.

But how do you store hay without a barn?

Here are six effective ways you can store hay without a barn.

Can You Leave Hay Outside?

While there certainly are optimal conditions for hay to be stored, including in a barn, you can, in fact, leave hay outside. To ensure the best conditions for outside storage of hay, there are several things to consider.

Hay thrives in an environment that is well ventilated and out of direct sunlight. Therefore, shade and ventilation should be your two biggest considerations regardless of which outside storage option you choose.


Some other important factors to think about when storing hay is that it should always be kept dry and not be exposed to rain or too much moisture. When hay becomes wet or is exposed to excessive moisture, its longevity is reduced.

Hay can also be exposed to moisture through frost and mist if it is stored directly on the ground, making it important to ensure it is kept on an elevated surface.

How Long Can Hay Be Stored Outside?

Hay can be stored outside indefinitely if kept in optimal conditions with minimal exposure to direct sunlight and excessive moisture. That being said, the general rule of thumb is that it should be used within three years of being harvested.

Hay can be affected by mold, so it is important to check it thoroughly if it has been stored outside for long periods of time before feeding it to your horse.

The condition of hay stored outside can also be affected by some of the typical barnyard pests such as mice and rats. Unfortunately, stored hay is the perfect home for these animals who can make a mess of this feed.

Having a cat on your property is one way to reduce the presence of these pests and protect the longevity of your hay.

Outdoor Hay Storage Ideas

Let’s get into some of the practical and cost-effective ways to store hay without a barn.


One of the most popular and effective ways to store hay outside is to use a tarp. However, when it comes to sourcing the right tarp, there are a few essential things to remember.

The tarp you buy should be waterproof and UV resistant. This ensures that the tarp protects your hay from both heat and moisture.

When it comes to moisture, make sure that the tarp you purchase is waterproof and not just water-resistant, as there is a big difference. A waterproof tarp will prevent the penetration of water completely, regardless of exposure to rain. In contrast, a water-resistant tarp will only be able to do this to a certain degree.

Tarps come in varying degrees of price and quality. Picking a tarp that has double versus single stitching and which is rot-resistant will also extend the ‘shelf life’ of your hay.

You’ll also want to ensure that your tarp has strong ties and clips to make it easy and effective to secure the tarp. These kinds of tarps will most likely come at a higher price but will save you money on replacing hay in the long run.

Should you decide to use a tarp to store your hay, make sure to combine its use with pallets to keep your hay off the ground. Free pallets are easy to source and are designed to handle heavy loads as they are used to transport cargo.

Lay pallets side by side to create a surface large enough for your hay and stack your hay on top before covering it with your tarp.


A carport is an excellent option for storing hay outside and protecting the hay from sunlight and rain. You will also need to combine the use of a carport with pallets to ensure that your hay is kept off the ground and consider how to protect the sides of the bales.

If your carport is not big enough to protect the sides of the stacked hay, you may need to consider providing protection in other ways. You could do this by stacking pallets on their sides and securing them or using a smaller tarp to cover any areas exposed to direct sunlight or rain.

Shipping Container

Shipping or cargo containers are airtight and waterproof, making them a great option for hay storage. In addition, these containers are animal-proof, both from pests such as rats and mice and also from your horse, who will most likely always be up for snacking on additional hay.

Due to their size, shipping containers can hold a large volume of hay and make it easy to access the hay stored due to their large doors.

When it comes to placing your container, remember that they need to be stored on level ground. This may require preparation on your part to ensure the optimal storage spot. Once in place, storage containers are not easy to move, so good planning is key.

Garden Shed

If the volume of hay you need to store is not large, a garden shed is a perfect solution. Sheds are easy to source, relatively inexpensive, and provide optimal storage.

Garden sheds are essentially mini barns and would provide all the benefits which a traditional barn does. Should you use a shed, make sure that there are no holes or gaps for pests to enter and soil the hay.

Inside a Horsebox or Large Trailer

If you have access to a horsebox on your property or a large trailer, these are great options for dry and weather-resistant storage. Your hay will be stored off the ground and could also be moved around if needed.

As with any option you consider for the storage of your hay, if there are any areas of exposure such as at the back of the horsebox, you may need to position the box or trailer in a way that limits water and sun exposure. This could also be done by using a tarp or by barricading the back of your horsebox completely.

​​Using Junked SUVs or Buses 

Using a large junkyard vessel may be one of the last things you would have considered when it comes to setting up storage for horse feed. However, a scrap SUV or small bus could be really effective in protecting your hay from the elements. This may also be a cost-effective option depending on the scrapyards in your area.

Using a bus or large SUV would be a perfect option for someone with a small homestead who needs to store no more than 15 – 20 bales of hay. You could get creative and paint the vessel you choose to fit in well with your homestead.