Twist test will ensure hay dry enough to bale

Hot weather doesn’t cure hay more quickly and experts are cautioning farmers to make sure they don’t bale too soon.

Barry Yaremcio, Alberta’s beef and forage specialist, said he has heard of some baling two days after cutting because it has been so hot. Hay will not have completely cured in that time.

He said many producers are using moisture probes to decide if hay is dry enough to bale, but probes measure the moisture only on the outside of the stem.

Hay that measures 13 percent moisture can jump to 25 or 30 percent a few days after it’s put up.

“Then the heat production goes up, mould formation and bacteria activity goes up, heat damage occurs and you’ve got a hay that’s either mouldy and brown or smells like sweet tobacco and it’s got heat damage,” Yaremcio said.

Moisture probes work very well when hay has cured five to seven days, but he also wants producers to use traditional methods of checking for dry, cured hay.

Breaking stems in half or twisting them in a circular motion to see if the stems break cleanly will give farmers the go-ahead to bale.

“If all the stems break and crack that’s an indication that the hay is cured and then you can rely on the moisture test that you’re getting from the probe,” Yaremcio said.

Producers can calibrate their probes by using a microwave test. This involves taking about 100 grams of a representative sample of the hay, drying it in a microwave and checking moisture again.

The difference between the probe reading and the microwave reading can help the producer properly use the probe to determine true moisture content.

Andre Bonneau, Saskatchewan’s forage management specialist, said sometimes people lack the proper equipment to do the test, such as a scale that’s going to weigh a small amount of hay.

“Just grab a handful and twist and see what it does,” he advised.

Many regions have experienced high humidity the past few weeks, which is also a factor in curing time. The hand test will help determine if baling should go ahead.

Heavy swaths will also take some time to cure.

Yaremcio has heard from a number of farmers who baled too soon.

“We’ve had a number of calls in here that the hay is 105 F and you can’t put your hand in it because it’s so hot, and you can see the bales starting to slump instead of having that nice round shape. The bottoms are flat,” he said.

“Those are two good indications that the bales are heating and losing quality.”

So far this season, first-cut haying is about 85 percent complete in southern Alberta, 65 percent in central areas and a little behind that in the north where a lack of moisture has been the concern.

Yaremcio said yields appear to be average to well above average through the south and central region.

In Saskatchewan, about two-thirds of the first cut has been done province-wide. Bonneau said yields are 120 to 170 percent of normal.

Generally, quality suffers at the expense of yield, he said, but he expects it will be as good as most years except in the south where alfalfa weevil has caused damage.

The weevil has also affected crops in southwestern Manitoba, where haying was about 80 percent done.

In the northwest, operations are about half done and yields are average to below average with fair quality.

Manitoba agriculture forage specialist Glenn Friesen said few in that province are happy with either yield or quality because weather has played havoc with the hay crop.

Cold May temperatures and some late frosts affected the growth for first-cut hay, particularly alfalfa for dairy use.

As the season progressed, dairy hay was rained on and beef hay dried out.

In the Interlake region, hay fields were under water for quite a while and aren’t going to recover that well, Friesen said.

The extreme heat is now affecting the crop.

“We need more than half an inch, every day, for a week,” Friesen said July 23.

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