This summer has been a major challenge for hay producers in the Northeast. Trying to cobble together 3 or 4 days of dry weather has been nearly impossible! With some farms still doing first cut and others doing 2nd, here are some tips.
What can you do to try and get your hay in the barn with these weather patterns?
1) Mow at a higher height. While you will leave some feed in the field, the stubble you leave behind will improve air movement to dry your hay and keep it off the wet ground we seem to have everywhere! If you are worried about the loss of yield from doing this, be reminded that most of what you leave will be of little nutritional value to your animals as most of it will be highly lignified stalk material.
2) Make sure you lay your hay out as wide as possible when you mow. Open the shields on the back of your mower or remove them completely so the hay is spread out as wide as possible. The number one factor in drying hay is exposure to sunlight. The more the grasses and legumes are exposed to sun, the quicker they will dry. More rapid drying also helps to preserve quality!
3) Ted your hay soon after the initial drying of the surface of the hay you have mowed. Tedding helps to expose more of your crop to the sunlight as well as get your hay spread out even farther.
4) If you are unsure about the dryness of your hay and weather forecasts don’t look good and you decide to bale.…make sure you use a preservative on your hay. The most effective preservatives for dry hay are based on propionic acid. Look for preservatives that have the highest concentration of propionic acid and apply it at the correct concentration. Inoculants are best used for silage, not for dry hay. You should use a preservative if the hay is in the range of 18-20% moisture at baling. Baling at higher moisture contents, even with a preservative can cause heating and molds in your hay.
Keep a watchful eye on your hay bales after baling. If heating starts to occur, be prepared to take action, especially if the hay is stored in a barn. Use a compost thermometer as a monitoring tool, as it allows you to get to the inside of the bale to take a temperature reading. Bale temperatures should stay as close to ambient temperature as possible, and not exceed 125 degrees F.
If temperatures start to exceed 125 degrees F and climb to nearly 150 degrees F, be prepared to take action. Examine and check the bales twice daily, and consider moving the bales out of the barn or stack to allow more air flow around heated bales. Once the temperatures reach 160 degrees F or higher, spontaneous combustion is possible and the hay bales should be moved and opened up to allow for cooling. If temperatures reach 175 to 190 degrees F you have reached a critical temperature where moving bales and exposing them to fresh air could cause the bales to combust. If your bales reach this temperature, you should call the fire department before you begin to move bales out of the barn as they may combust on exposure to fresh air.
(Temperature recommendations taken from PA field Crop News 7/30/13 M. Hall)