Testing the Moisture Content of Hay: Accurately Testing Your Hay Before, During and After Baling Using Electronic Moisture Testers -

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Testing the Moisture Content of Hay: Accurately Testing Your Hay Before, During and After Baling Using Electronic Moisture Testers


Testing the moisture content of hay prior to the baling process is essential to both seller and buyer. Moisture in hay is considered in three different forms, free water, physically trapped water, and bound water. The free and physically trapped water can be evaporated given proper conditions which include solar radiation, relative humidity, and time.

At the time of baling the ideal moisture level is between 18 and 22 percent. Hay baled with higher moisture percentages can foster mold, resulting in loss, and in severe cases, damage as the accompanying heat can cause spontaneous combustion. Due to its importance, testing hay for moisture content is essential to the success for both the buyer and seller.
Testing the moisture content of hay prior to the baling process is essential to both seller and buyer. Moisture in hay is considered in three different forms, free water, physically trapped water, and bound water. The free and physically trapped water can be evaporated given proper conditions which include solar radiation, relative humidity, and time.

At the time of baling the ideal moisture level is between 18 and 22 percent. Hay baled with higher moisture percentages can foster mold, resulting in loss, and in severe cases, damage as the accompanying heat can cause spontaneous combustion. Due to its importance, testing hay for moisture content is essential to the success for both the buyer and seller.

Prior to the invention of electronic testers, farmers would visually inspect the hay for moisture by picking up and subsequently breaking the stem to examine the moisture level in the stem to determine if it was ready for the baling process. Having the technology of electronic testers allows the farmers to pin point the ideal time for baling resulting in a higher overall yield from their fields. With the introduction of hand-held electronic testers, farmers not only have the benefit of accuracy they also have the benefit of efficiency.

Instead of sending samples into a laboratory, drying and testing in the house with the microwave, using a large convention oven, testing using a field drier, or even twisting the hay by hand to test, you simply take the samples from the windrow; place them in a designated bucket, and test for moisture using a probe style tester. Simple, clean, efficient.

Baling Your Hay at the Correct Moisture Levels Saves Time and Money
Testing for moisture does not end with the bale; testing occurs during and after baling. During the baling process the use of baler-mounted hay moisture testers, assures the producer that the hay is at the correct levels as it is being baled. Installation is simple and the results are displayed to the operator every two seconds or so.

The one thing to keep in mind about baler-mounted testers is that the levels can read from 2 to 3 percent higher than a hand held or portable tester. This is not to say that the testers are inaccurate just that there is a variable when using a baler-mounted style moisture tester throughout the baling process. You will develop a feel for the difference in equipment and again can be assured that the hay being processed is at its ideal condition for production.

Hay that has been baled too wet will produce mold and can heat up to fire producing levels. A bale of hay with mold is typically not a bale that can be sold; if it is sold the sale price is drastically reduced as the hay is no longer safe for food matter where livestock is concerned. If the hay is baled too wet and results in a fire, the loss can be catastrophic in product sales, property damage, and loss of life.

Testing the Moisture Levels of Stored Hay
After the baling process, hay is stacked and awaits sale. Testing at this stage is vital for the same reasons that stood prior to the baling process. With a hand-held electronic probe tester, you are able to simply insert the probe into the bale and determine its moisture level. Probes come in a variety of lengths, 18”, 20”, 24”, and 32”, giving you flexibility along with reliability.

As with hay that is in process, hay that has been baled is subject to a variety of conditions and/or circumstances that can affect the test results. Bale density should be considered when testing; a tighter bale will produce higher moisture levels which will be reflected in the results. The shape, the size, and the baler being used all have an effect on the test results. For example small, rectangular bales tend to be denser toward the bottom whereas large rectangular bales tend to be densest in their upper corners.

The “sweating” process which occurs naturally, and passes, can alter the results of a moisture test as can the use of preservatives. Preservatives will become absorbed in approximately 1 to 2 days however prior to that a result that is 2 to 4 percent higher is not unheard of. Even the type of hay tested can alter the results, if your tester is calibrated for alfalfa however the hay being tested is a grass, alfalfa mix the moisture level can vary. A simple matter of including conditions into your test results will result in better hay production.

Electronic Moisture Testers Take the Guesswork out of Hay Production
Testing hay throughout the process is, as stated, vital to the proper and profitable production of hay. Without testing hay production relies on luck and experience; whereas experience needed is vast and luck is just not practical. Hand-held electronic testing equipment takes the guess work out of production and allows farmers to produce and bring to market hay ready to sell with little to no waste.

The electronic moisture testing devices also save valuable time, the production of hay does not happen in a factory neither can a wasted bale be “fixed”. Making sure the hay is ready for baling and subsequently ready for sale with hand-held electronic testing equipment used throughout the process, removes any doubt where quality is concerned, provides convenience to the farm staff, and assures the buyer that they are purchasing a quality product.

Hay buyers are very particular customers; your hay is feeding their livestock, their livestock provides for their family. If the hay purchased is riddled with mold not only is it dangerous to store it is unable to be fed. Wasted hay due to poor conditions during production can lead to a myriad of problems for livestock owners, from sickness to disposal of the unusable hay. If a ranch purchases hay that results in sick livestock chances are they are going to shop around for another supplier, if a ranch purchases hay that catches and causes fire damage, you can be sure they will shop around. The price of hay in today’s market is high, livestock owners, ranchers, and the like are looking for well priced quality hay; testing assures them of that. Hand-held electronic testing equipment allows the farmer confidence in his crop, convenience for staff, not to mention happy, and returning, customers.


by Andrew LaFlame, Product Manager at AgraTronix

AgraTronix meters are available at Bale Supply
  • hay wilson in TX, davang and Tim/South like this


3 Comments

like the microwave test better here in central ms if hay is baled at more than 14% it will mold i like 12 to 13 %
    • downtownjr and hay wilson in TX like this
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hay wilson in TX
Feb 09 2013 12:37 PM
Moisture in hay is considered in three different forms, free water, physically trapped water, and bound water.
True but there is also stem moisture and leaf moisture.

In the day time:
With 90% humidity ( down at the hay level) the hay will be no drier than an average of 40% Moisture.
With 70% humidity the hay will be no drier than 18% to 20% moisture.
With 65% humidity the hay will be no drier than 16% to 18% moisture.

In the Arid West the producers some times use one of three systems to introduce moisture to a dry windrow.

Now for moisture testing. The Koster Moisture Testing System is the most accurate but not timely, for baling.

There are a number of electronic moisture testers, and all work, but require operator skill for accuracy. In short the tighter the hay is packed the higher the moisture will read.
For on the Go Moisture testing is sampled on the cut side the hay will be reading more stem moisture and possibly read higher. If sampled on the opposite side the hay will read mostly dew moisture and possibly read less than average.
I was advised to sample for moisture for preservative application on the cut side. I now bale with out a preservative and sample the hay on the opposite side.
As long as my hay is as dry as pop corn the evening before & we have enough overnight dew the hay will bale just fine as the humidity goes down through 70%. Down next to the hay.
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hay wilson in TX
Feb 15 2013 05:04 PM
on the Go Moisture testing is sampled on the cut side the hay will be reading more stem moisture and possibly read higher. If sampled on the opposite side the hay will read mostly dew moisture and possibly read less than average

This might be a little misleading.
It is possible the stems are really 10% moisture, but the leaves are above 20% moisture, with the morning dew. It is possible for the hay to test on the go above 22% moisture but the average moisture is 20% or even 18% moisture. This is mostly the surface dew's moisture and it will evaporate quickly.
I pick the hay up with a NH Balewagon and can select these bales to be the top bales on the stack, On top with plenty of air to carry off any stray moisture.
The driest bales are the bales that I select to be burried deeper in the barn.
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