The solution to difficult climatic conditions for haymaking

Of all the challenges in farming, making dry hay is one of the greatest. You need at least three, but more like four days in a row to harvest dry hay. Unlike other crops that you can harvest a few hours after a tenth of an inch of rain, this delays the production of dry hay by a day.

As I write this today, it’s pouring rain outside, even though the weather forecast only called for a 10% chance of rain. There is good hay because it gets a good wash. One way to bale hay in just a two-day weather window is to bale hay.

Bales are harvested at 65% moisture content or less, with an ideal moisture content of 45-55%. The pressing can be done up to 25% humidity, but it is not ideal. When pressing is done at either end of the 25-65% moisture range, it may not ferment properly and should be watched closely for poor quality.

eyes and ears

Monitoring fermentation and forage quality is essential. Bales often have a pH above 5 and low lactic acid values. The first line of fermentation monitoring is your eyes and nose. If you see a spoiled spot or the smell is different from other balls, do not feed this one. The balls should smell good; high butyric acid will smell very putrid.

Also watch out for holes in the plastic, as bullets near these areas pose an increased risk of botulism. Bales that get wet and ooze manure or squat during fermentation also experience unwanted fermentation and pose a risk to your livestock.


Another tool is a fermentation analysis. The first measurement is a simple pH analysis. The goal is a pH below 5, which inhibits secondary fermentation by Clostridia bacteria.

A pH above 5 does not mean the bales should be discarded, but indicates that further testing may be warranted, particularly if the hay has been baled too wet, has high ash content or high levels of butyric acid .

Butyric acid levels should be below 0.5% on a dry matter basis, with possible depression of intake starting at levels of 0.3%. Although there are many strains of Clostridial bacteria, one, Clostridia botulinum, causes botulism. Clostridial bacteria ferment sugars, lactic acid and proteins and often produce high levels of ammonia.

The next acid level to check is acetic acid, which should be less than 4% DM with a goal of 1-4% DM. Acetic acid inhibits yeast and mold growth and helps prevent balls from spoiling during feeding. High acetic acid often occurs in high moisture hay above 75% or when bales ferment slowly due to high protein content or loose bales with a lot of trapped oxygen.

Propionic acid is another one to watch with a target of less than 1% DM. High levels of propionic acid are an indicator that your forage did not have enough plant sugars available for fermentation. Lactic acid is the goal of good fermentation; it is the product of the anaerobic fermentation of soluble sugars and carbohydrates.

The objective is to have a minimum of 3% DM based on lactic acid. It should be the dominant acid in well-fermented husks, with higher amounts than acetic, propionic, or butyric acid. However, it is difficult to achieve 3% lactic acid or more, due to the long particle length and slow fermentation of the husks.

Besides acids, you can also check the percentage of ammonia-N of total N, which is the proportion of this nitrogen in the forage that is present as ammonia. Levels above 15% indicate that some Clostridial fermentation has occurred. High levels of ammonia are strongly associated with high levels of butyric acid.

Based on a standard forage analysis, ash content can also be a sign of problems. A standing crop has a DM base of 8-10% ash, with levels above 11% indicating that the bales have been contaminated with soil, which may be the germ of yeast and mold growth. Cereal fodder is more at risk, especially when planted conventionally.

The wider the row spacing, the greater the chance that soil will be picked up during the mowing and raking process.


While there’s a lot to watch out for when making and feeding bales, it’s a great tool to speed up the haymaking process. Just make sure you do it at the right humidity, not too wet. Make bales as dense as possible to limit the oxygen content of the bales and bale them as soon as possible after baling.


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