It’s been a hot summer so far, and many ranchers across the country are spending these dog days of summer out in the hay field, harvesting forages for winter feed. While heat exhaustion is a big concern for producers working during times of scorching temperatures and high humidity, overheated equipment can also be a major concern.
The smallest spark from a baler could ignite an entire hay field in the blink of an eye, so producers need to be diligent about taking the proper precautions to minimize the risk of a baler fire in the hay field.
Tracey Erickson, South Dakota State University (SDSU) dairy field specialist, offers a few tips for maintaining the baler to prevent unwanted fires, including:
1. “Remove any trash or plant material accumulation on the baler and take time to blow off dust, leaves, and dry stems.
2. “Keep the baler free and clean of oil, grease or hydraulic fluid accumulation, which also attracts and holds dust while baling and is highly ignitable.
3. “Carry an ‘ABC’ fire extinguisher on the baler or in your tractor at all times. Make it easily accessible and check it to make sure it is still adequately charged with fire retardant and not beyond its expiration date. (An ‘ABC’ rating on fire extinguishers means that it is rated to control A - Trash, Wood, Paper; B - Liquids; C - Electrical).
4. “Carry a minimum of 4 gallons of water to use if a fire would ignite.
5. “It is also recommended to have a shovel or spade with you to throw dirt on a fire or pat out the hot spots.
6. “Take time to inspect all moving parts for wear or friction before heading out to bale.”
To read more of Erickson’s tips on baler maintenance and fire protection, click here.
Once the hay is put up, there is the added concern of bales starting on fire in these hot and humid conditions. Erickson suggests these four tips for minimizing heat damage and fire risk and harvest and during storage:
1. “It is recommended to put up dry hay at a moisture content of 20% or less as this is when mesophilic bacteria growth is minimized, reducing the risk of overheating. To achieve the desired moisture content, remember that if humidity is high or there is heavy dew, the hay will pick up moisture content. Often baling later in the day helps minimize extra moisture from accumulating. However, as night approaches it can also increase the moisture present, so constant checking of the moisture content throughout baling is recommended.
2. “Use equipment that will enhance quicker dry down of the forage. This includes hay rakes and conditioning equipment, tedders and windrow inverters. Additionally, preservatives such as propionic acid that are applied at the time of baling can reduce or inhibit the growth of bacteria reducing the potential for excessive heating.
3. “Once the hay has been baled, it is best to minimize losses or the potential of enhanced heating especially if the hay has been put up at marginal moisture levels (close to 20% moisture). Storing inside is best to minimize losses from weather. In doing so, make sure it is weather tight and has adequate drainage to inhibit water from entering the building.
4. If storing outside is your option, cover the hay with a waterproof type material. To help moisture absorption from the ground, hay should be stored on a bed of gravel or by lifting them above the ground via tires, poles or pallets. If you are unable to cover them, provide enough room between bales to allow for adequate air flow for drying to continue.
View additional tips for checking stored hay temperatures and what to do if hay temperatures reach dangerous temperatures by clicking here.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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