Wet hay hazards

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If other people are having some of the same issues our farm has with this wet weather, you’re probably nearing the end of your hay reserves and chomping at the bit waiting for dryer weather to start first cutting. Keep in mind though that there are several hazards associated with wet hay, especially hay that has over 20% moisture for small square bales, 18% for round bales, and 16% for large squares when baled without a preservative. The best way to prevent these hazards is to make sure the hay is dry enough before you bale it, but it can be hard to avoid getting a few wet bales every now and then.

The most severe hazard is the risk of spontaneous combustion. If the hay starts decomposing, it can generate a lot of heat, and if this happens in the middle of the stack you might not notice until you have a big problem. Combustion can happen within 3 or 4 weeks of baling, and at temperatures as low as 175 degrees Fahrenheit. The other main hazard is mold, which can ruin the hay and cause health problems for people and animals. Hay that is baled when it is still too wet can also loose a lot of it’s nutritional value.

Ideally, the best prevention is to avoid baling when the hay is too wet, but anyone that has been in the hay business knows that this doesn’t always happen even when conditions are ideal. One thing that I’ve seen people do with wet hay that seems to be pretty effective is to stack the hay on pallets in an open area away from buildings and put a tarp over it to prevent it from getting wetter. Also make it part of your routine to monitor your hay for hot spots for the first month or so after you store it. If you get temps over 130, monitor it daily. If you find any spots over 145, you’re nearing the combustion point and should remove bales from the hot spot. Over 160, call the fire department because your hay is either on fire or almost on fire.

Another strategy, especially if you only have a few wet bales mixed in, is to feed the wet bales first. This prevents fires and also helps you get the most out of the hay before it gets moldy or looses nutritional value. In my experience the big squares seem to be especially prone to mold, plus if they do go bad it’s a lot of material to dispose of, so for those be very careful of your moisture levels and consider using a preservative if you don’t already.

There are also a number of strategies to optimize drying while the hay is in the field. The Wisconsin extension has a good summary of things you can do as far as width of rows and timing of raking with a lot of good graphs and data tables so I’ll share that in the link below.

I’m really hoping the weather will dry up soon so we can get some hay up without it being wet, but given the weather reviewing some strategies for preventing wet hay or dealing with it when it happens seems like a good idea. Here is a link to the original article I was reading. This article also has a link to Purdue’s comprehensive forage guide, which goes into great detail about how to prevent mold/fires and general information and planting strategies for forage crops.


Case Study: Farmer rescued from downed powered lines

A farmer in Michigan was rescued unharmed after power lines fell on his tractor. This is a great example of a near-miss where the farmer could have been killed or seriously injured but got out unharmed because he responded correctly to the situation, so I thought I’d write up a quick overview.

What happened: A farmer was discing his field and hit a power pole. The power lines dropped on top of his tractor and equipment. The farmer called 911 from his tractor and first responders shut off the power so that he could get out safely. A fairly large area briefly lost power but no one was harmed.

What went wrong: Basically the only thing that went wrong in this situation was the farmer hitting the power pole. Obviously avoiding obstacles in the field is important and if the farmer had avoided the pole none of this would have been necessary, but after that point their response to the situation was perfect and no one was hurt.

The hazards involved:Live electrical wires are extremely dangerous, and can cause death and severe injury if someone touches them while the power is flowing. Additionally, because the tractor and equipment are made of metal, the equipment itself may have been carrying a charge depending on where the cables landed.

What went right: Most importantly, the farmer didn’t try to get out of the tractor or touch the door handle or the outside of the tractor. They called 911 and waited for the power company to turn off the power so that they could get out safely. Carrying a cell phone with them was critical in this case because they were able to get help quickly and didn’t risk either leaving the tractor themselves or someone finding them and getting electrocuted in the process of getting out. Emergency services did a great job handling this too. They got the power shut off and let the people whose power got shut off for a while know what was happening. They didn’t send any of their people in until they were sure the power was off.

The bottom line: Power lines and electricity in general is very dangerous and because you can’t see it, it’s easy to accidentally touch something that is live and get shocked. If you are ever in a situation where there are downed power lines don’t touch them, call 911, and if you’re in a vehicle stay inside until you get the all-clear. This situation could have gone from equipment damage to someone being severely injured or killed very easily, but the way that the farmer and emergency services responded to the situation prevented a bad situation from getting much worse.

Here is the original story from AgDaily:


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Earn $50 by completing young worker supervisor training and survey

One of the professors I work with at the University of Iowa is looking for people to test a training program for people who train and supervise agricultural workers under the age of 21. Participants who complete the training a survey will earn $50, and if you complete a second survey 3 months later, you can earn another $50. The training and survey can be done online and take about an hour to complete. Over half of occupational fatalities involving people under the age of 21 are in ag. I haven’t seen exactly what is in the training program, but my guess is that it covers a lot of the material that our university ag safety courses cover on the safety risks to younger workers and strategies that can be used to help prevent younger workers from getting hurt on the farm. Here is the link to the study website if you would like to participate!