Baling Hay: some points to consider regarding safe moisture levels

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Trevor Lennox, Regional Forage Specialist, Swift Current

Hay needs to be completely cured before being baled. The recent high temperatures, resulting in quick drying conditions, have some producers heading out to bale within two to four days after cutting. If hay isn’t completely cured, there could be damage to the hay after being baled.

Moisture probes measure the electrical conductivity or movement of electricity across the outside of the stems based on the amount of moisture there. If the outside of the stem is dry, producers will get a very low reading and indications from the probe will be that the hay is ready to be baled. The problem is that alfalfa and some of the grasses that have only been cut for a few days are not properly cured. There is more moisture on the inside of the stem that’s not being measured. A day or two later, that moisture will migrate to the outside of the stem, raise the moisture content in the bale and heating, mold formation and heat damage to the protein can occur. This will result in a substandard product, compared to the very high quality product that would have been baled if baling had been delayed by another two or three days.

Instead of relying only on moisture probes to take a reading, another option is to conduct a microwave test. This is done by taking a representative sample out of the bale, cutting it into small pieces and using the microwave to double check moisture contents.

Use a feed probe to collect a representative sample, weigh out 100 grams and use the microwave and moisture probe test results to establish the difference between the probe reading and microwave results. If the probe is reading 14 per cent and the microwave is at 18 per cent, then you know how to interpret the probe information. Additional  information on this method can be found on the internet: http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/i106.pdf

There are also the manual break tests to establish if the hay is cured. Take a handful of hay between your hands and try to break it in half or twist it in a circular motion; if the stems snap, this tells you that hay is cured.

The main message here is that if the forecast looks good, and a producer isn’t quite sure of moisture content, err on the side of caution and give the hay another day or two to cure before baling.

What moisture level should hay be made?

Bale your hay at about 15 to 18 per cent moisture when making large round bales. Getting consistent moisture content can be a challenge. Hay fields often vary in landscape, species distribution and yield, which can all affect the moisture content of the material. At this moisture level, you have a better chance of producing firm, well shaped bales that are less likely to spoil. Bale chamber losses will also be kept to a minimum.

Hay moisture content is the most important factor when it comes to leaf loss. Baling too dry can cause higher pick-up and bale chamber losses than baling at the correct moisture level. More leaves are lost, which can lower forage quality and yield.

For further information contact Trevor at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture office in Swift Current at 306-778-8294, or by e-mail at trevor.lennox@gov.sk.ca.

Organizations: Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture

Geographic location: Swift Current

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