PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
Baling hay is a big job, and its complexity is compounded by its sensitivity to the weather. That’s why it’s important to have all your machinery prepared and ready to roll when the first three-day sunny stretch strikes.
Once you’re underway, you don’t want to be delayed by malfunctioning equipment or other unforeseen obstacles. After the hay is cut, it needs to be baled sooner rather than later to preserve its nutritional quality and protect it from damaging rain.
Compiling a pre-hay season checklist is a great way to ensure you won’t be caught unprepared. The following list provides a jumping off point to steer you in the right direction. Feel free to tweak and add as necessary to suit your specific needs:
1. Perform Pre-Haying Tractor & Machine Maintenance
If you haven’t already conducted spring maintenance on your tractor(s), tackle the job before hay season begins.
Check and change fluids, filters, and spark plugs as necessary, following the maintenance guidelines in the manuals. Do the same with your hay tedders, rakes, balers, and wagons—grease them as needed, replace broken tines, etc.
Check the tire pressure in all your machines and add air if necessary. Replace worn-out tires so you won’t experience a dangerous and/or time-consuming blowout during operation.
Radial? Bias? Find out which kind of tire is right for your farm.
2. Test Your Machinery
Once general maintenance tasks have been executed, fire up your tractor and test your machinery to make sure everything is in working order.
Check the hydraulic systems, give the rakes and tedders a test drive, and maybe cut open a couple old bales of hay to give your baler a quick review. You don’t want to find out on baling day that a critical machine is in dire need of repair.
3. Stock up on Fuel, Baling Twine, Shear Pins, Rake Tines, Etc.
Make sure you have a large stock of important supplies and spare parts before hay season begins.
Fuel is obvious. Calculate your projected needs and stock up on enough gasoline and/or diesel fuel to keep your tractors running. If you’re concerned you won’t use the fuel quickly enough, consider adding fuel stabilizers to prevent fuel degradation.
Baling twine is also important. If you know how much hay you expect to bale, you can calculate how many feet of baling twine you’ll need.
Shear pins compatible with your machines are a must. You can usually count on one or two to give out over the course of a season. Spare tines for tedders, rakes, and balers should be kept stocked too.
And don’t forget personal supplies like gloves (to protect your hands from blisters) and masks (to protect your lungs from dust.) Have enough on hand for everyone involved in the project, and stash some extras for good measure.
Learn which types of gloves are right for hay season.
4. Gather Any Supplementary Tools
“Supplementary tools” is a good catch-all category for any items you might need to ensure hay season progresses smoothly, even if they’re not necessarily critical. For example, hay moisture and temperature testers, or rakes and brooms for dealing with loose hay.
Gathering supplementary tools might involve stocking your tractor toolbox with hammers, pliers, and a ratchet and socket set in case you have to make repairs in the field. Or it might mean getting a hay elevator into position before the first wagon is ready to unload.
Think through your process and cover all the bases.
5. Prepare your storage location
Make sure you have a place to store your hay once it’s baled.
This is pretty straightforward if you’re storing round bales outdoors, but if you’re storing hay in a building, be sure to empty and clean a large enough space to handle the incoming crop.
Chances are you have a dedicated place where you store hay each year. If last year’s crop is still taking up space, find a new location if possible and sweep out any loose material left behind.
6. Take preventative measures against heat
Baling hay on sunny summer days often means baling in hot weather. To avoid the risk of heat-related health issues, take preventative measures to stay cool and hydrated.
- Wear light-colored clothes, preferably made of cotton.
- Keep lots of cold water on hand and drink regularly.
- Install fans where possible to generate air movement and cool you down.
- Take breaks and rest in the shade from time to time.
- Upgrade your hay wagons in DIY fashion so you can stretch tarps across the top and provide shade for wagon workers.
- Add a cab (preferably one with air conditioning!) to your tractor to protect the driver from the sun and heat.
Above all, work carefully, stay safe and enjoy the satisfaction of baling your own hay!