Put up hay at right moisture

As I was writing this article Monday afternoon, it was just starting to sprinkle. I have only had around .3” of rain in three weeks. My pasture fields and lawn was starting to go dormant. I hope we finally received some rain. While we hadn’t received much rain, farmers have been challenged to get up hay because of the cloudy conditions. I had a call last week on when is hay ready to bale? Uncle Ermil taught me the “feel” test over 40 years ago and it has served me well, but there is really a science behind it. If you are making small square bales, the moisture content needs to be 20% or less; for round bales, 18% or less; and for large square bales, 16% or less.

What happens if we bale hay and the moisture content is too high? Bad things. If lucky, maybe the hay will only mold, but if it is too moist and starts heating, it could catch fire. If the hay heats to 100-120o, it will be fine; if it goes above that, monitor daily. Once it gets to 140o, consider tearing down the stack. At 150-160o, call the fire department, and once it gets to 160o, there will be smoldering pockets and hot spots, and gases will ignite hay when exposed to air (source: Washington State University Extension, Steve Fransen and Ned Zaugg). This has been a challenging few weeks trying to get up hay, let’s not making it worse by putting up hay too wet and burning things up.