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The recent cool weather is a reminder of what is around the corner – fall, and that summer is officially over.  As with every year this is the peak time for harvest, and one crop in particular is hay.  Even though hay production and harvest has been an ongoing process throughout the summer, the fall is generally the busiest time of year for this crop, which is occupied with the last cutting of hay, moving hay from the field to storage and transportation of hay to customers.  In a nutshell, this seems to be an endless game of tearing one haystack down to build a new haystack somewhere else. 

So what? Why would hay be a concern for safety? In 2014, approximately 2.24 million tons of hay was produced in Wyoming. This includes alfalfa hay, mixed hay and grass hay. This is an astounding amount of tonnage that is typically moved quickly to storage with the assistance of various types of equipment, which creates the perfect situation where accidents tend to thrive, causing injury or even death. 

To contribute to this scenario, hay bales can range from 50 pounds for small square bales to over 1,000 pounds for large square or round bales, with each type of bale contributing certain factors for safety. 

Did you know that overturned tractors are the number one cause of injury and death in farm and ranch operations? We typically do not associate overturned tractors with hay. However large bales of hay, either square or round bales, are moved strictly with some form of equipment, whether that be tractor, backhoe, skidsteer, etc., because of the weight and size of the bales. Equipment used for moving, stacking or feeding hay can overturn for various reasons, including traveling too fast around a corner, driving along steep slopes, pulling unstable loads, carrying a load too high or hitting an obstacle like a hole, rut or debris in the road.  Anytime additional weight is added to the scenario, such as lifting bales or moving a load of bales, this can be a compounding factor to the equipment overturning.

Before moving or handling hay, make sure the equipment is in good repair and working condition, weighted properly and able to carry the load safely and securely. Whenever possible use areas that are flat, firm and have plenty of space for moving and maneuvering for the size of equipment used. It is highly recommend to use attachments that are specifically designed to handle large bales, such as grapples and bale spears. Never raise or lower the load while the tractor is moving, and carry the load in a low position. 

In the case of small square bales, these are generally loaded on trailers by hand and brute force. Even though these bales are small enough to be lifted by an individual, it does not mean that you are safe from harm.  This work is typically done on top of the hay which is an uneven, unstable and slick surface that creates a situation for falling off the hay, bales falling on individuals, twisting an ankle, etc. There is also the potential of straining, pulling or tearing muscles in the legs, arms and back. 

If you choose the route of bucking bales, make sure to always have a solid footing before lifting and throwing bales. Use proper lifting form, lifting with your legs and not your back. Get the trailer as close to the stack as possible while also getting the stacking height as close to the lifting level, so there is no need to strain or overexert the muscles.   Always wear good footwear when moving hay to provide good stability to your feet, joints and muscles through this laborious task.

Once the hay is stacked, there are still safety concerns associated with it.  Stack stability is probably one of the largest concerns.  One of the biggest fears with haystacks would be a bale or bales falling off the stack and crushing a person. The taller the stack is, the greater the force can be from a falling bale. 

To prevent bales or stacks from falling over, make sure that the stack is established on level ground, built with a solid wide base, does not lean to one side and is only as high as needed.  If possible, stack the hay in a pyramid shape, which is the most stable shape because  the wide base and tapering sides keep the weight of the hay in the center of the stack. 

Another contributing factor that impacts stack stability is the degradation of hay overtime. As the hay ages in the stack, this can cause slumping or slouching of bales and possibly the entire stack, which, in turn, can cause an unstable stack. Always be careful when walking next to, climbing or walking on a haystack, which unfortunately never has the most ideal footing.

As the hay season progresses, be mindful of safety while lifting, hauling and stacking hay bales.  Safety around hay storage and stacking is common sense, so take the time to do things correctly and safely. Have a safe and productive season with your hay endeavors.

“Making high quality hay is a lot easier said than done,” commented Keith Johnson, Extension forage specialist at Purdue University.

Johnson and former Montana State University Extension Beef Specialist John Paterson spoke as guests on the Oct. 22 edition of Beef RoundTable.

“One cause of low quality hay may be that it is cut too late as compared to a timetable of making higher quality hay due to maturation,” Johnson noted.

Rain damage to a crop that has been laid in a swath or windrow may also reduce forage quality.

“Thirdly, when one makes hay a bit too wet, we find that hay in the cure process or in storage can actually have some deterioration of forage quality,” he added.

Determining quality

To determine how the quality of a particular crop has been affected, Johnson suggested combining both a sensory and a chemical analysis.

“In a sensory analysis, we are essentially using the aspects of sight, smell and our fingers in terms of touch,” he explained.

Visually, a producer may determine that certain weeds have been wrapped into their bales. They may also note the maturity of the forages based on the vegetative stage of the crop or the presence of seed heads.

“I am also looking for foreign objects within the bales, such as aluminum from cans or dead matter,” he commented.

A musty smell in the hay may indicate that hay was baled too wet, and by running their hands over the hay, producers may be able to detect the presence of spines or other rough textures that may make the hay less desirable for livestock.

Forage testing

“I am also going to do a chemical analysis, and this requires proper sampling technique, which means that I really need to invest in a hay probe,” Johnson continued.

He suggests visiting as a resource to learn about how hay should be properly tested and which local labs are certified to test forages.

“We want to store our hay in an organized way so when we sample our hay, we know where it actually came from and we can properly feed the hay based on the chemical analysis we receive,” he said.

If results indicate that hay quality is low, Paterson recommended using supplements when feeding livestock.

He noted, “In our herd we might have mature cows, bred heifers, replacement heifers and maybe some bulls. Our strategy should be to ask, where am I at today and where do I need to be next year?”

Balanced nutrition

Current body condition scores and desired scores for the spring should be noted and referenced in context to the reproductive stage of the animals.

“The first thing we could do would be to provide a protein supplement, and that can be done a lot of different ways,” Paterson continued.

Alfalfa hay, soybean hulls or commercial supplements are all possible diet additives to increase protein.

“The reason we provide protein is it causes those animals to eat more of that low-quality forage. If they are eating 25 pounds of low-quality forage, we might be able to get them up to 28 or 30 pounds by providing a protein supplement,” he said.

One indicator of adequate dietary protein may be the consistency of manure.

“If I don’t have enough protein in the diet, there will be dry, hard manure pack, and I’ll need to get some protein into the cows with some alfalfa hay, supplement, distiller’s grain or something like that,” he commented.

Paterson added that sitting down with an animal nutritionist and a feed dealer to discuss feed analysis results could be beneficial for creating a feed supplement program.

“Get a balanced nutritional program put together,” he suggested.

Johnson also noted, “Look at the forages first in terms of what we intend for the hay. Some hay is just inherently a higher quality than others.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Livestock and horse owners should use caution when purchasing hay from unknown sources. Hay that has been improperly baled, contains dead animals or trash or that has been stored in wet conditions can be a thriving source for botulism. 

Botulism is a serious illness that is typically fatal. It is caused by a bacteria that dates all the way back to the Roman Empire – Clostridium botulinum

“This group of bacteria produces some of the most devastating diseases known, as the effects of their toxins have very rapid and frequently fatal results. As a group, these bacteria can be common in many soils and are frequently associated with poor sanitation or contamination of food sources,” according to Donald Cobb, a Casper veterinarian who has dealt with botulism cases.

Inside Botulism

Botulism is an anaerobe, meaning it grows in environments lacking oxygen. 

“Any type of feed where there is a lack of oxygen can have botulism growing in it,” Cobb explains. “Any time we have feed like a tight hay bale or a pile of grain where there is no air circulation, there is a chance for this organism to grow. 

“The organism itself, while it grows, does not produce problems. However, it emits an incredibly potent toxin that does,” he says.

Cobb recalls a producer who shot a fox on top of a hay bale and left the fox there to deteriorate. As the decomposition ran down through the hay, the bale became contaminated with botulism. The rancher fed the bale, and seven horses died as a result. 

In another well-documented case that occurred several years ago, a tremendous corn crop was harvested in the Midwest, and some corn was stored on the ground. Over 150,000 migratory fowl were lost to botulism after consuming the corn. 

Cobb explains that when feed sits on the ground and becomes wet and moldy on the bottom, botulism can occur.

Cobb shared another instance when a client had a down mule and a missing saddle horse. Both animals died. Cobb suspected botulism, and when he and his client tore open the bale of hay, they found a dead deer baled up amongst the forage. 

Avoiding garbage

“Why anyone would knowingly put garbage, dead animals or anything other than clean hay in a bale and cover it up is difficult to understand,” he says. “Big square balers can pick up anything, and some producers will pick up trash and throw it into the baler to hide it.” 

Unfortunately, if these bales become contaminated with botulism, the person feeding the bale won’t notice a lot of outward signs in his livestock. The first symptoms may be a bunch of dead animals. 

Susceptibility can be pretty uniform in any animal, Cobb says. 


If a producer doesn’t find the animal dead, the main symptom of botulism is a flaccid paralysis. 

“The animal will be fairly bright, alert, down and have either lateral or sternal recumbency. They will be totally unable to mount a muscular response,” Cobb explains. 

“What kills them is when it paralyzes the muscles of respiration,” Cobb continues. “Botulism destroys the nerve transmission to the muscles. The animal will be totally incapable of responding to any stimulus, and they have no control of their muscles.”

“Depending upon the dosage, death can occur in a relatively short period of time. They can go from normal, to staggering, to death within a few hours,” he states.


Although the condition can be treated with the right antitoxin, botulism has multiple strains, so the right strain would have to be identified for the treatment to be successful. In most instances, isolating the organism and determining what strain it is is a postmortem diagnosis. 

However, in Kentucky, where botulism occurs more frequently, some strains have been isolated, and some animals are given vaccines to prevent botulism. 

Being proactive

Cobb says no test exists to test bales of hay or feed for botulism. However, botulism has a putrid smell similar to the seven-way Clostridial vaccine.

“There is no such thing as good, poor quality feed,” he continues. “It only takes a small amount of botulism to kill an animal. Even if the contamination is removed from the bale, the bale is a total loss. The toxin can permeate through the bale.”

If bales are contaminated with botulism, Cobb recommends burning the hay. 

“If the hay is hot enough to burn, it should kill the toxin. It shouldn’t be able to survive that much heat,” he adds. 

If the toxin is in one bale of hay, chances are good that it could be in more than one. 

“Most producers take a lot of pride in what they produce,” Cobb says. “I would recommend sticking with good, reputable hay producers who are concerned with what they produce and have repeat customers year after year. If do that, we have done about everything we can to prevent the problem.”


Cobb suggests producers can also help prevent botulism by stacking hay to allow air circulation under the bottom bales, which can stop mold and other issues. 

He also suggests investing in a covered hay shed to prevent moisture from seeping into the top of the bales and traveling through them to the bottom bales. It also keeps the bottom bales dry. 

On a final note, Cobb says producers need to use common sense to protect themselves because no one else will do it for them. 

“We will be in a hay shortage for some time, and we may be forced to feed some feed we don’t want to,” Cobb notes. “If a rancher thinks that feed may be bad, don’t take a chance on it.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As I write this article, our agriculture community is alive with activity. Tractors are busily preparing fields for planting, fertilizer trucks can be seen on the roadways moving from one location to another, and along with new crops comes the concern about controlling pests.

Of course, pesticides are just one option that is available for controlling pests, and the equipment used to apply that pesticide is just as important as utilizing the correct pesticide.

Just like all equipment, spray rigs need maintenance and repair. It is recommended that the spray rig be checked prior to and after extended storage, as well as after each use. Are you wearing your PPE, or personal protective equipment? Make sure to always wear your PPE when checking, maintaining and repairing a spray rig. Now that you have your PPE on, make sure to check the system from the spray tank all the way to the nozzles. Of course only check the system with water, never with pesticides. Look for damages and leaks to the spray tank, pump, pressure gauge, hoses, strainers, fittings and nozzles. All worn out parts, such as hoses, fittings, nozzles and others, should be disposed of properly and not reused for any other purpose.

Did you know that a worn nozzle can still visibly show a uniform spray pattern? Oftentimes we do not think about replacing nozzles until there is a non-uniform spray pattern. However nozzles are constantly wearing due to the number of hours of spraying that is done, if fertilizers are used and what types of pesticides are sprayed.

To accurately determine if a nozzle is worn out or not, calibrate all nozzles against an identical new nozzle. This is done by catching, in a measuring cup, typically in ounces, the amount of water delivered from both the old and new nozzle for the same duration of time and at the same pressure. Any nozzle that delivers 10 percent or more water than the new nozzle is worn out and should be replaced.

For example, the manufacturer might state that the nozzle should provide 40 ounces of fluid per minute at 35 pounds of pressure. Since 10 percent is the factor determining if a nozzle is good or worn, multiply the ounces by the factor. Then, add and subtract from the ounces to determine the upper and lower range. In this example, 10 percent of 40 is four. Added and subtracted, the range should be 36 to 44 ounces. Therefore, any flow that is collected for the duration of one minute at 35 pounds of pressure and is between 36 ounces and 44 ounces would be considered a good nozzle. Anything above or below this range would be considered a worn nozzle and should be replaced.

Nozzles that provide low flow could also be plugged, and it would be worth cleaning the nozzle and testing it again.

Of course, not all nozzles are created equal. Nozzles are made out of five different materials – brass, plastic, stainless steel, hardened stainless steel and ceramic. In terms of cost, plastic nozzles are usually the cheapest, and hardened stainless steel are the most expensive.

However, in terms of durability, also known as nozzle life, brass is the shortest-lived followed by plastics, stainless steel and hardened stainless steel. Ceramics are the longest-lived spray nozzle. Unfortunately, nozzle life cannot be reported in years of use due to variable factors such as how many hours of spraying is done, if fertilizers are used and what types of pesticides are sprayed. Therefore, nozzle life utilizes the brass nozzle as a standard to compare against, for example plastics are considered two to three times the life of brass.

When was the last time you replaced the nozzles on all the spray equipment? Properly maintained and calibrated spray equipment will save you time and headaches during application while also adding the assurance of correct application. So carve out some time this spring and get all your spray equipment maintained and ready for the busy season ahead.

Casper – The University of Wyoming held a Master Hay Growers session Feb. 6 in Casper. The session was held to help hay producers use the strategy tools of partial budgeting and net present value (NPV) to determine the need of making changes to an operation. 

“Agriculturalists have a healthy dose of skepticism,” said UW Extension Educator Bridger Feuz, “which is a good thing, but producers can’t be so skeptical that they aren’t willing to look at these tools and analyze new opportunities for their operation.” 


Changes that producers want or need to make to their operations require the assistance from a banker most of the time. Partial budgets and NPV are handy tools producers can use to convince a banker. 

“It forces producers to ask themselves questions in terms of what they are giving up and what they are getting in return for making those changes,” explained Feuz. 

“Our goal with this analysis is to determine if producers are going to be better or worse off with the changes they are thinking about making to their operation and if they will be making more or less money,” said Feuz. 

Partial budgeting

Feuz explained that partial budgeting is very useful in terms of intermediate term analysis and can be used to answer questions on whether a producer should fertilize a certain year or change from making square bales to round bales, for example. 

“A farmer or rancher who really concentrates on their budget and focuses on those issues is, in general, a profitable operation,” explained Feuz, “but there’s data that would suggest, at least in the beef industry, that there are a few things people would invest in to generate more profit than those producers who aren’t making investments.” 

Investments producers could make include incorporating new genetics to their herds and making improvements to ranges and pastures. 

In general, investments drive profits in farming and ranching operations, and the input costs of buying more fertilizer and herbicide can certainly help an operation. However, those benefits are not always additive. 

Questions to answer

“There’s nothing magical about partial budgeting, other than it forces producers to answer these questions individually and forces them to not net plan in their head,” said Feuz, “which leads to them missing important data and usually not getting answers as correct as they should be.”
Questions that need to be asked for a partial budget include what new or additional costs will be incurred based on this change and what current income will be lost or reduced.

Feuz also said producers should ask what new or additional income will be received and what current cost will be reduced or eliminated.

When creating a partial budget, it is important to only include costs that will actually be incurred. 

For instance, costs to consider include those incurred if an employee needs to be hired or if a producer has to work fewer hours at an off-farm income job. It does not count if the producer has to work longer days on the operation. 

End value

A partial budget is not meant to be a final financial statement. Rather, it only accounts for potential costs and returns associated with the change to an operation. 

It is to be used as a tool by the producer for the decision making process. Partial budgets can help decide if changes warrant the extra money, time and effort that would be put into an operation. 

The end value of a partial budget can be either a positive or negative, and it provides a good framework for making decisions.

“Even a slightly negative number would be interesting to producers,” said Feuz, “because they have a real ownership in the cattle that they have developed. They might rather keep their own cattle and even sustain a small loss so that in four years they will still have their herd in place.” 

Net present value

For bigger investments to an operation Feuz suggests using NPV to determine if the investment is necessary or not. 

Investments add risk to future income due to that income is not guaranteed, meaning they aren’t worth as much as today’s present value of money. 

A producer could use that same capital that they are investing towards the need or cost for something else. This is especially important if that producer has to borrow the capital. 

“The NPV helps with using an interest rate and discount rate to figure out how much money those future revenue sources are worth to producers in today’s dollars,” said Feuz.  

Using NPV

Producers enter the investment costs, interest rate, annual cost and revenue for the proposed investment, and the NPV tool calculates a value for where the producer stands at in five years, 10 years, 15 years and a breakeven year. 

Most agricultural investments last for 15 years, whereas with other businesses they would only have a NPV for five to seven years. 

“There’s no right or wrong answer when using these tools,” explained Feuz. “They can help producers with the decision making process of whether or not to make a change to their operations.” 

For more information about all of the presentations presented during the Master Hay Growers course, visit

Madeline Robinson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..