How to Avoid Spontaneously Combusting Hay (and other helpful tips)

7-13 hay safety

Baling hay is hard and hazardous work. There are several steps you can take to ensure that the whole process goes smoothly and safely.

Equipment – Know how it works, stay up to date on maintenance, and make sure it is running smoothly with all safety features properly working and attached. Review the manual beforehand if needed. Keep an extinguisher on or in your tractor in case of emergency. When cutting and baling, be sure to stay with the equipment. Go slow to prevent the machines from overworking, wheel issues against the land, and for general tractor safety. Be sure that the equipment you are using can handle the heavy loads of hay that will be coming through.

Field Work – Be aware of the location of any other machinery or people working near you to prevent accidents. When baling and stacking hay, stack carefully and evenly so bales don’t fall over and potentially land on anyone. Use proper technique to lift the heavy bales, and stop frequently for water and rest on those hot days. For more tips on how to stay cool, read our previous blog post here.

Baling – Picking the right time to cut and bale hay is a delicate art. Moisture levels in the hay greatly affect how dangerous a bale could potentially come. Wet hay tends to be hotter hay because of the chemical reactions that occur in the center of the bale building up heat. That heat intensifies, and because the bales are typically so densely tied, the heat doesn’t have a way to escape. Because of this, hay fires often occur quickly after the baling process – usually within 6 weeks. Any hay that has a moisture level of above 15% has the potential to get overheated and create issues. Weather, humidity levels, sun, and wind all play a part in moisture levels for the hay, both while being processed, and after when in storage. If hay isn’t processed correctly, it could potentially cause a barn fire.

Storage – Hay should be stored in a cool, dry location. Bales should be stored in a building without animals or equipment. Keep away from accelerants or open electrical circuits. This will decrease damages in case of a fire. Monitor the temperature frequently for the first few weeks after baling. The center of the bale should be below 150 degrees. If the temperature gets above that, monitor regularly to make sure it doesn’t continue to go up. If the central temperature hits 175 degrees or higher, call your local fire department.



“Don’t Risk Hay Fires.” North Dakota State University

“Fire Prevention and Safety Measures Around the Farm.” Rutgers

McGuire, Kent. “Safety Considerations for Hay Baling Season.” The Ohio State University

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