Preventing Hay Fires

… hay moisture concentration has a major effect on the microbial activity that can lead to hay fires.

Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference ManualYeah, and blow the end of your barn off too. — jtl

 A Handbook for Ranch Managers  While the threat of hay fires is often greater in the late spring and early summer months, it can affect hay storage anytime hay is put up with high moisture concentrations.

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Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian ViewAs several hay fires and the loss of barns and other property made the news recently, an inquiry came into the UK Ag Equine Programs office: What information is available about the prevention and control of hay fires? Can that information be made available publicly?

Combat Shooter's Handbook Reconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps Institute The Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other MisfitsAccording to Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist at the University of Kentucky, and a publication he helped author while he was a faculty member at Virginia Tech University, hay moisture concentration has a major effect on the microbial activity that can lead to hay fires.

The Essence of Liberty: Volume I: Liberty and History: The Rise and Fall of the Noble Experiment with Constitutionally Limited Government (Liberty and ... Limited Government) (Volume 1)  The Essence of Liberty: Volume II: The Economics of Liberty (Volume 2) The Essence of Liberty: Volume III: A Universal Philosophy of Political Economy (Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic) (Volume 3)Smith said producers should cure hay to the proper moisture concentration prior to baling–a concentration of 20% or less for small rectangular bales and 18% or less for large or round bales. (Note, however, that experts caution that a moisture concentration greater than 16.5% in square bales puts those bales at a greater risk of mold during storage).

Many of the hay fires that occur happen within six weeks of baling, when hay spontaneously combusts. Kentucky and several states in the Southeast had a wetter-than-average late spring, which affected many farmers’ hay baling schedules as well as the quality of some of the hay that was put up.

While the threat of hay fires is often greater in the late spring and early summer months, it can affect hay storage anytime hay is put up with high moisture concentrations.

Smith recommends farmers or horse owners check the temperatures of hay that has been baled at a higher-than-desirable moisture concentration twice a day during that six-week window post-baling. When temperature readings come back at lower than 130 degrees Fahrenheit, continue monitoring them twice per day. If those temperatures fall within the 130-140-degree range, Smith recommends rechecking that reading in a few hours. If the temperature is measured at 150 degrees, it is likely that number will continue to rise. At that point, he recommends moving the hay to allow air circulation and cooling and to monitor temperatures every few hours. (Note that experts also suggest moving affected hay with a fire department close at hand in case the increased oxygen serves as the tipping point to fire). If temperature readings are greater than 175 degrees, it is likely that a hay fire is imminent or already occurring. At that point, call the fire department immediately.

You can monitor temperatures inside hay using a probe and thermometer. Commercial temperature probes are available but are often too short to monitor the maximum interior temperature. The following article referenced by Smith describes how to make a simple temperature probe with an iron pipe.

The Virginia Tech educational paper about hay fire prevention and control referenced can be found in its entirety at

Holly Wiemers, MA, APR, is communications director for UK Ag Equine Programs.


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Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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