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Handling wet hay

If you can't avoid the moisture, there are ways to manage wet hay and preserve your crop

As the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines. But there is always the chance that rain will disrupt the process.

Dan Undersander is an extension forage specialist at the University of Wisconsin. He says the effect that rain has on hay quality and yield depends on how much rain falls, and timing in the hay making process.

"A light rain, like less than half-an-inch, will probably largely shed off the windrow," says Undersander. "There will be some moisture uptake, but not so much. If you hay gets rained on near to when it's cut, it'll have less impact. If it gets rained on near to when it's dry, then you will have leaf shatter. So the point is it's better to have it in a windrow generally speaking if it's going to get rained on, than it is to have it laid out flat."

Undersander says you do have some options. If the hay was almost dry when it rained, use a hay preservative and bale it a little on the wet side. However, if hay bales are too wet, mold can grow and give off heat, reducing forage quality and creating a fire hazard.  You can reduce this risk by not stacking the bales.

"That's why some people make bales and let them sit out individually until they have "cured".  All that means is you're waiting for the heating to stop, because individual bales have more surface area, whereas a stack insulates itself and gets hotter," says Undersander. "So if the bales are a little bit on the wet side, leave them sit individually, and then stack them a couple weeks after they're made."

Another strategy is to make smaller bales. Because they have more surface area to volume than larger bales, they will transfer more heat to the air and not get as hot.

Learn more about how rainfall can affect forage quality

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