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Practical Considerations For Baling Hay

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With a first cutting of hay down, here are a few important things to keep in mind when baling hay.

Last week, we got our first cutting of hay down. For my husband Tyler and I, that meant meals in the field and a date night of riding together in the tractor. With our first cutting of alfalfa on the ground, we are hoping the rain holds off until we are done baling.

Hay season certainly keeps us busy. We aim to get three cuttings each summer. Have you started cutting hay? Are you in need of moisture or is the rain keeping you from getting any baling done?

Although the full heat of summer isn't in full force yet,  Marvin Hall, Penn State forage specialist, warns producers about hot hay.

"This time of year, farmers often know the hay they are baling is wetter than they'd like, but they are taking a chance, hoping to save a better-quality product vs. letting the rain cause the crop to deteriorate in the field. Unfortunately, moist hay can quickly become hot hay, which can ignite through spontaneous combustion.

"Most farmers strive to bale hay that is field dried to 20% or less in moisture. At this moisture content, the baled hay can cure properly and maintain quality. With moisture content higher than 20%, hay under storage conditions will generate more heat than can safely be dissipated into the atmosphere. As temperatures rise, dangers of spontaneous combustion increase. Farmers need to be diligent in checking their hay, especially if they know they baled hay that was wetter than normal. Smoldering hay gives off a strong, pungent odor. This odor is an indication that a fire is occurring. If even the slightest smell is present, farmers should take temperature readings of the stack.

"Reaching inside a hay stack will give an initial clue. If it feels warm or hot to the touch, that's a good indication that problems may exist. Knowing the temperature of the hay is the only real way of determining how serious the potential fire problem is before flames ignite," he says.

Check out more advice for handling hot hay here.


By the way, for those of you on Twitter, have you heard of #haytalk? It's an online community focused on discussing topics related to hay, forage and pastures. The next #haytalk chat will be June 7 at 8 p.m. CST. Join in on the conversation for updates on haying season from ranchers across the country!

Discuss this Blog Entry 12

on Jun 4, 2012

Good luck ,with the hay making

on Jun 4, 2012

Thanks! We were able to get our first cutting of alfalfa baled over the weekend, so we are making great progress.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 4, 2012

Wasn't this kind of a waste of space? How many people do you know that bale anything that didn't already know this? Also, why does the email field say optional when it isn't?

on Jun 4, 2012

Sure, the information provided by OSU might be commonsense, but I think it's a good reminder for folks as they get into haying season. I aim to provided practical production resources from industry experts, Extension and universities, and I always hope producers will add their seasoned wisdom to the discussion, as well. Thanks for your comment.

on Jun 4, 2012

Ever lost a cell phone in a hay field? I did last night... The hay binder got plugged up, and I set my phone on the 4-wheeler while we worked on it. Then a neighbor showed up, and we got visiting, and when I drove away, I completely forgot about my phone! Of course, it was on vibrate, so we waited until dark, called it, and it lit up in the field! I lucked out! Oh the joys of haying season! :)

trinity ranch (not verified)
on Jun 4, 2012

This is good information. You would be surprised how many beginning farmers are reading this type of article. I came from a farming background but it was cotton and soybeans. I just bought a cattle ranch and I produce about 2000 bales of hay per year to sell. I knew nothing about this until last week when an ole timer explained it to me. Keep helping us new farmers out. I am learning as I go and need all the help I can get. Thanks

on Jun 4, 2012

Thanks for the feedback. As a young producer, this type of information is useful to me, as well. I would rather read about it then learn the hard way! I will continue to feature production tips on the blog.

Brian Reed (not verified)
on Jun 4, 2012

The number of people who actually know how to bale good hay is becoming fewer and fewer. Anybody can mow it, rake it, and round bale it. I have always felt that round baling was an excuse for poor quality hay, or lack of investment in storage facilities. My family in Missouri has put up quality hay for 40 years as small squares and more recently big squares. I have stacked hay in lofts in 100 degree heat, but always preferred to stack on the wagon behind the baler. Check with your local implement dealer about a Tetter or Tedder. We use one to "fluff" the hay, which scatters the windrow and speeds drying. It can cut a day's dry time depending on where you are in the country.

Bobbi (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

I am going to dissagree with you about round baling being an excuse for poor quaility hay. Our goal is to put up the best hay possible. It takes the same fuel, labor and twine to bale bad hay as it does good hay so we aim for the best hay we can possibly make. We put it in round bales because we can bale, stack and move that hay in less time as a small square. That and we are young farmers (under the age of 35 and on our own) and we could afford the round baler over a large square baler not to mention with 2 off farm jobs so we have to cut down our labor where we can. We grind all our hay to feed the cows, ground hay in the feed wagon along with our other ingredients cuts down our labor to feed as well and cuts down on feed waste as we feed in bunks. Not saying that small squares are a bad option, they are a great option they are just an option that doesn't match our situation. We do put a few small squares in the barn as they are handy when we have a pair in the barn needing extra attention. Our round bales are high quality hay....

on Jun 4, 2012
Michael Donovan adds this comment via email: Losing a barn full of hay to fire is a devastating loss. It takes months, years, to recover. Why not rig up a few thermometers and measure the temperature inside the bales? Here's a home made gauge which costs very little to make: http://www.farmideas.co.uk/articles/electronic-grain-temperature-gauge-s...
Brian Reed (not verified)
on Jun 4, 2012

Future articles about the actual process would be of use to beginners, or those who have moved to another part of the country with different environment conditions. Haying in west Texas is much different than in Missouri!

on Jun 4, 2012

Thanks for the advice on the "fluffer," Brian. Your seasoned advice is always welcome on the blog. And, I agree that a Texas rancher might have different challenges than we face here in South Dakota. Any regional advice is welcome here, too!

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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