Make Hay While the Sun Shines – The Rest of the Story

Photo Karen Graham.

This farmer was raking his hay on Larmer Line last week in order to expedite the drying process so he could get it baled ahead of the rain in the weekend forecast. Raking fluffs up the crop, allowing better air circulation before the crop is baled and stored for later use. It also collects several rows, called windrows, together into a single row, cutting the number of tractor passes for collecting the bales by at least half. Hay that is stored with a moisture content exceeding 25% may heat up and spontaneously combust, resulting in a fire. This risk is particularly high for first-cut hay, which may retain more stem moisture than later cuts which are more mature. Hay combustion usually occurs within the first few months of storage, and an early harvest like we see this season, or an immature crop, can complicate the drying process and increase the risk of fire. The combination of the right quantities of moisture, oxygen and organic matter (hay) allows the growth of bacteria and molds. Ideal haying conditions include dry fields, strong breezes and clear skies, as hay quality falls quickly once it gets wet. This is just more evidence reinforcing the common sense adage “Make hay while the sun shines.” This suggestion was first recorded in the English verse by Alexander Barclay in The Ship of Fools first printed in 1509, demonstrating that some lessons survive the passage of time.

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