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.


Preparing for extreme cold

With much of the Midwest expecting extreme cold this week, I though I would re-post some tips for dealing with cold weather.  Click here for some general tips on working in extreme cold

In addition to these general guidelines, there are a couple of extra things to think about specific to farming:

As much as you can, try to prepare for the cold ahead of time to minimize how much time you have to spend outside. Make sure that animals have warm bedding before the cold hits, prepare extra feed, and take care of any urgent work before it gets dangerously cold.  A lot of times you can’t avoid going out completely, but cutting down your exposure by even a few minutes or hours by doing extra prep work now can be a big help.  Along similar lines, make sure that you have snow cleared and that everything is salted/sanded beforehand.  There tends to not be as much snow when it gets super cold, so you might even be able to get away with not shoveling or sanding if you have everything set up beforehand.

Also be careful if you’re using space heaters for shops and barns, especially if this will be the first time you’re using them this year.  Click here for some propane heater safety tips and here for electric space heater safety.

Hands and feet are particularly vulnerable to the cold.  This is especially true if your boots aren’t big enough to accommodate multiple pair of socks.  I’ve actually had good luck buying a second pair of work boots specifically for winter that are a size or two bigger than what I normally wear and wearing 2 or 3 pair of wool socks in them. I also layer my regular gloves with a pair of larger size fleece lined mittens.  Also there are a wide assortment single-use and reusable heated liners available to put in shoes and in gloves.  I’ve never tried the rechargeable ones, but I’ve used to use the single-use ones  and they seemed to help a lot.

Finally, consider taking breaks to thaw out while you’re working, and move to somewhere heated, especially if you’re experiencing shivering, fatigue, or numbness in your face or extremities . It’s better for a job to take longer than usual or be less efficient than usual than it is to end up with hypothermia or frostbite. Stay safe out there!

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National Fire Protection Association: Put the Freeze on Winter Fires

Here is an article and video from the National Fire Protection Association with some tips on preventing winter fires. A lot of the information focuses on hazards in the home; fireplaces, space heaters, candles, decorations….however many of these tips apply to the farm too. If you’re using space heaters in the barn or shop, make sure they’re at least 3 feet away from anything flammable. Don’t leave anything with an open flame or exposed heating coils unsupervised and make sure all of your equipment is functioning properly at the beginning of the season.

Carbon monoxide is another hazard associated with open flame. I know someone who narrowly escaped carbon monoxide poisoning from running a propane space heater in his garage.  Fireplaces can also create a carbon monoxide hazard if they’re not properly maintained.  If you’re regularly using a heat source that burns fuel (wood, propane, gas, etc) it might be worthwhile to get an extra carbon monoxide detector.   Sometimes fire departments, park districts, homeowners associations, and other groups offer free detectors so you might be able to pick up one for free if you check around.

Also be careful of holiday decorations indoors and out.  The number of fires in the US peaks on December 25th, December 31st and January 1st, and holiday decorations are often to blame!

Click here to see the full article



Preventing Fires During Harvest

Here is another harvest safety article on fire prevention.  I vaguely remember our combine catching fire when I was little. I think we caught it early, and there wasn’t much damage.  Someone that lives down the road from us wasn’t so lucky 2 years ago.  They made it out in time, but their combine was a total loss and the burnt out shell ended up sitting out in their field for several months before they were able to break it up and have it hauled it away as scrap.  Fires can move quickly, causing property damage and putting the operator at risk.

Click here to see the article

Preventative maintenance is the best way to minimize the risk of fire. Clean out dust and debris before the start of the season and as often as you can during harvest.  Also check wiring and bearings for signs of damage at the beginning of the season. Pay especially close attention to the wiring if you see signs that mice have been in your combine while it was parked. I don’t know why mice enjoy chewing on wires so much, but it seems like every few years we find something they’ve chewed up and wreaked.

Having a fire extinguisher handy is also recommended.  Since most tractor fires are petroleum based, make sure you get an ABC-type extinguisher. The National Agricultural Safety Database recommends the 5-pound size extinguisher for tractors and combines.Click here to see the NASDB’s recommendations for ag fire extinguishers. Extinguishers cost as little as $30 so it’s not a big expense.  Keep an eye on the expiration dates, and make sure that extinguishers are replaced as needed.

If you see signs of smoke, get out of the cab right away. Use caution if you try to put the fire out yourself.  Surfaces can become hot very quickly, and if you open on a panel on an area that is on fire, the increased airflow can cause the fire to expand quickly and expand outside of the compartment.  When in doubt, call the fire department!
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