Ron Thaemert has seen a lot of one-ton rectangular bales sitting in fields with big Ws spray-painted on them. In each case, the grower made a bale, used a moisture probe and found out the hay was too wet.

“Out here that's $120-130 a bale,” says Thaemert, Blaine County extension agent in Hailey, ID. “It costs them money to have that one wet bale sitting there.”

Growers often make a bale because methods of moisture-testing hay in the windrow either take too much time or aren't accurate, Thaemert says. The often-used stem-twisting method, for example, isn't reliable. And oven drying is tedious and time-consuming.

Some just estimate the moisture content. Too often, they bale the hay too wet, increasing the risk of haystack fires.

“I thought there had to be a better way of doing this,” says Thaemert.

His Windrow Sample Gathering Tool provides one. Hay is packed into a 2' × 2" ABS pipe, creating a minibale. Then moisture readings are taken with a probe-type tester.

The ABS pipe is capped on one end, and the packing is accomplished with a 3' × 1¼" PVC pipe, capped on both ends so either end can be inserted into the ABS pipe. It fits snugly inside the other pipe, but not so snugly that it can't easily be inserted and removed.

Thaemert chooses a sampling site and rolls the windrow over. Then he grabs a handful of the dampest-looking hay he can find. He folds the hay into a ball and twists it into the gathering tool. More hay is added until the tool is full. Next, he places the tool on the ground, capped end down, and packs the hay with the plunger to simulate the compaction that takes place in a baler.

Finally, he pushes a 20" probe-type moisture tester about 4" into the sample and takes a reading. He also takes readings at about 8", 16" and 20". Thaemert totals the four readings and calculates the average, then repeats the procedure at several other random locations in the field.

He claims the method can be as accurate as oven drying, but adds a couple of precautions. If you use your probe a lot, the tip may get gummed up with alfalfa juice, hampering conductivity. Clean it periodically with steel wool.

Also, check your probe's accuracy by occasionally oven drying a hay sample from the gathering tool. Simply unscrew the cap, push the sample out into a plastic bag and take it home for drying.

Thaemert is applying for a patent on the apparatus, but doesn't mind if growers build their own.

“It can be really accurate,” he says. “It saves time, money and having wet bales sitting at the ends of fields with big Ws on them. And it can prevent some haystack fires.”

For more information, call Thaemert at 208-788-5585. E-mail: Thaemert@uidaho.edu.