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Take Care to Avoid Baling High-moisture Hay

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Written Tuesday, July 07, 1998  

A wet spring is being followed by a wetter-than-usual summer so far, so hay cutting and baling has been particularly challenging this season. Purdue Extension forage specialist Keith Johnson is advising farmers to be wary of baling hay that's too wet.

"Moisture content at baling is critical. Too-high moisture at baling leads to heating, microorgansism growth, mold and--in the worst case scenario--a storage barn fire," Johnson says. He also points out that if the moisture content is too low, leaf shattering can occur, especially with legume crops.

"In Indiana, I would suggest that hay should not be packaged in small square bales above 20 percent moisture and in large round bales or large square bales above 18 percent moisture," he says. "Use of organic acid preservatives permits one to harvest at a higher moisture level, but adds cost to the hay making process. These preservatives, in my opinion, should be considered when the hay crop is in the windrow and there is no chance of reaching the targeted dry hay moisture because rain is inevitably going to happen before the desired harvest moisture content can be achieved."

Johnson says that the most accurate approach for a farmer to test hay moisture is to follow proper protocol with a microwave oven.

"The technique is more cumbersome than using the Delmhorst handheld moisture meter, but is more accurate," he says. "A compromise is to measure moisture content of the hay with the handheld meter followed by measuring moisture with the microwave oven." Future reference can be made to the calibrated data set when measuring other hay moisture levels.

Purdue Extension Bulletin ID-172 provides detail on how to use a microwave oven to determine moisture content. This publication, which can be obtained at Purdue Extension offices throughout Indiana, also is available on the World Wide Web via the Purdue Forage Information web site, http://www.agry.purdue.edu/agronomy/ext/forages/.

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