Growers are warned every year about hay baled too wet and then stacked tightly enough to cause hay fires. The following tips can help growers avoid such disasters, if not this year, maybe the next.

They come from Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension grazing and crop management field specialist.

Consider seeding a grass mix with alfalfa, as most grasses allow hay to dry faster in the windrow. Improved grasses can provide great feed quality and yield, even for dairy farms.

Provide good weed control; certain weeds tend to dry slower in the windrow than alfalfa.

Know the proper moisture levels to safely bale different bale packages. Don’t start baling too early in the day.

Use approved hay preservatives if bales must be made wetter than advised.

Properly adjust conditioning rollers on mowers to maximize drying without causing excess leaf loss.

Utilize moisture-testing equipment, such as hand-held hay probes or in-chamber testing units on newer balers, while deciding when it’s dry enough to bale. Remember, with a new unit, always check its accuracy with another moisture-testing process or unit.

Set wet square bales in a location separate from drier hay – preferably under cover and not in direct contact with the ground, but still allowing airflow around each bale.

Use a thermometer probe, or, in an emergency, a metal pipe with a thermometer lowered inside, to check the interior temperature of suspicious haystacks for two to three weeks after stacking. For stacks with temperatures at 115-130ºF, monitor twice a day; at 131-149º, check every few hours; at 150-174º, have water ready, help on hand, the fire department on standby and then pull out hot bales; at 175º or greater, call the fire department and remove equipment and animals from the building. Don’t pull out bales until the fire department is on site, as oxygen will ignite hay quickly.

Don’t walk above a hot spot, as a burned-out cavity can cause a cave-in. Instead, lay down a ladder and walk on it when probing a hot spot.

For more information, read our stories, "Head Off Wet-Hay Fire Danger" and "If Baling Hay Wet, Watch For Fires."