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.


Hay Baling Safety

It’s that time of the summer where everyone is putting up hay, so I thought I’d share some baling safety tips. Whether you do small squares, big squares, round bales, or silage it can be a particularly dangerous job. The article from MyFarmLife.com is mostly about avoiding machinery hazards like spinning PTO shafts, stored energy in flywheels, and rollover hazards while moving bales.

Click here to see the article
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I’d also like to add a few  suggestions specific to baling and unloading small squares that have come up in my personal experience.  Having spent many hours loading and unloading hay, and having experienced several injuries in the process here are a few things to look out for:

-Climbing on and off of moving wagons while loading is particularly risky.  There are lots of hidden bumps and holes in fields so it’s easy to fall or to twist an ankle or knee, plus there is a risk of being run over if you fall.  Stopping when someone needs to get on and off a wagon takes less than a minute and it’s much safer.

-If you’re using a thrower, don’t have someone in the wagon trying to stack. The few people I know that have tried this have all been knocked over by falling bales multiple times and it’s really easy to get hurt doing it.

-Take precautions against overheating when baling and unloading in hot weather. Heat exhaustion is the most common problem I’ve seen people have when handling hay.  Be especially cautious with newer employees who might not be used to working in the heat.  Encourage everyone to take breaks as needed rather than trying to tough it out, and consider waiting until later in the afternoon to bale if it’s particularly hot out.

Click here for an article about working outdoors in summer heat

-Keep your wagons in good condition and make sure there are no holes or gaps in the floor of the wagon. Putting your foot through the floor or tripping on a gap between boards while you’re carrying a bale or two is an easy way to get hurt.

-Bale elevators are another hazard that a lot of baling safety guides seem to miss. The teeth that carry the bales can be sharp, especially if they’ve worn down over time.  The drive belt can be a hazard too, especially if the guard is missing.  It’s important to keep some space between where the bottom of the elevator sits and where people are walking or standing to load bales.  If you’re using the elevator on an incline, be sure to anchor the top and the bottom of the elevator so that it doesn’t slide down.  Try to minimize the distance the bales have to fall as they come off the end, and don’t walk under or climb on the elevator when it’s running.

-Make sure that you are using protective equipment when baling.  I have a sound meter app on my phone and the sound level of our tractor and baler was about 95 decibels, which is enough to cause damage after only a few hours of exposure.  Sun exposure is another problem. Even if you don’t burn normally, being out in the sun for hours in an open field can cause burns and skin damage.  You may also want to consider wearing a mask and/or eye protection, especially if you have allergies or are baling hay that is particularly dusty or potentially moldy.  The worst experience I’ve had farming was  an allergic reaction in my eyes from baling rained-on hay that was starting to mold. My corneas swelled and I had to spend almost a week in a dark room because I was so sensitive to light. Being aware of the environmental conditions and taking the appropriate precautions can save you a lot of trouble later on!

Those are some of the main hazards that come to mind when I think of the ways people I know have been injured while handling hay. Stay safe out there, and if I think of anything else I’ll be sure to add it to the list!