ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

What do I do about wet hay?

Posted July 13, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our NewFarm.org readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I was reading an article on the Internet concerning you and hay management. I’m new to the hay baling business and have horses. I just recently baled about 400 bales and they sat in the pasture for just over 24 hours prior to the start of picking them up to take to the barn. Unfortunately, I only got in about 100 bales before the roof let out and it rained rather hard on the remaining bales. My question is, will these bales dry or should I get rid of them? I have read numerous articles on wet hey and see that it is a bad deal especially for horses, but I can’t seem to find anything that safely tells me already baled hay will dry if left out for a period of time.

Bruce C. Sumner


Dear Bruce,

This question is as old as haymaking, and there is not simple answer. If the hay was packed tight (as in “can't fit a finger into the bale" tight) it may be that most of the water ran off the bales. If the bales were loosely baled, or if you go to lift them and they weigh a ton, they are probably ruined. If the hay is grass hay, you'll be better off than if it is legume hay. You do have the option of cutting open the bales, re-drying it and re-baling it, but 300 bales is a lot to do. Feeding moldy hay or dusty hay to horses is never a good idea. Beef cattle can take more of this than horses or milking cows and aren't quite as fussy.

The first step towards saving this crop is to determine how wet it really is. Cut a few bales open and check them. If it is soggy through the bale, it's probably mulch hay. If it only got wet on the surface, it will probably dry off in the sun and can be salvaged. If it can be salvaged, I'd get it off the ground and on to wagons where the air can get to it. Be very careful putting wet hay into a barn. In this situation, spontaneous combustion could occur from heat building up in the hay. This could become a very real fire hazard. If the hay is on a wagon, you can move it in and out of the building to help it dry.

Hope all goes well. And with hay you'll get another shot at it in about 30 days.

Jeff


Dear Jeff,

That answers the mail. My wife is very cautious and would prefer me to chalk it up as a “bad hay day.” No big deal as I still have a five- to six -acre pasture I’ll cut this weekend. Thank you for your speedy response. I have a few cattle buddies who can use it.

Bruce