Preventing Hay Fires

Here’s what to monitor in order to keep your hay supply and the structures it’s stored in safe.
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preventing hay fires
Hay moisture concentration has a major effect on the microbial activity that can lead to hay fires. | Photo: iStock
Q.As several hay fires and the loss of barns and other property made the news recently, an inquiry came into the UK Ag Equine Programs office: What information is available about the prevention and control of hay fires? Can that information be made available publicly?

A.According to Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist at the University of Kentucky, and a publication he helped author while he was a faculty member at Virginia Tech University, hay moisture concentration has a major effect on the microbial activity that can lead to hay fires.

Smith said producers should cure hay to the proper moisture concentration prior to baling—a concentration of 20% or less for small rectangular bales and 18% or less for large or round bales. (Note, however, that experts caution that a moisture concentration greater than 16.5% in square bales puts those bales at a greater risk of mold during storage).

Many of the hay fires that occur happen within six weeks of baling, when hay spontaneously combusts. Kentucky and several states in the Southeast had a wetter-than-average late spring, which affected many farmers’ hay baling schedules as well as the quality of some of the hay that was put up

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