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Salvage Flooded Hay Quickly

Flooded hay needs to be salvaged fast because it can mold or catch on fire.

Floodwaters have inundated hay supplies in many parts of North Dakota and Minnesota this spring.

“Time is of the essence in salvaging wet hay,” says Greg Lardy, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist. “It will heat and mold very quickly, leading to spoilage as well as the possibility of spontaneous combustion.”

He recommends producers move dry hay off wet hay because the water in the wet hay will soak up into the dry hay.

Producers also need to watch the hay for signs of heating, such as a strong burning odor, noticeable vapor or a hot feeling when it’s touched. Hay bales that are at 30 percent to 40 percent moisture content pose the greatest risk of fire, so producers should check them often. Check daily if the hay seems to be heating.

To check a haystack’s temperature for fire risk, drive a sharp-pointed pipe into the hay, lower a thermometer inside the pipe and leave it there for about 20 minutes. Hay is approaching the fire danger zone at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. At 170 F, hot spots or pockets of fire are possible, so have the fire department on standby.

One option to reduce the risk of fire if the hay temperature raises to more than 140 F is to split the hay into two piles and keep monitoring it daily.

Producers should not feed hay that has been flooded to their livestock because floodwaters are considered to be contaminated. As a result, the hay probably isn’t safe for livestock to eat and it isn’t worth the time and expense of drying, Lardy says. Instead, dispose of it or spread it on fields as fertilizer.

Producers also should not feed moldy legume hays, such as alfalfa or clover, to livestock because the hay could cause reduced performance, sickness, abortions or death.

For more information about dealing with wet hay or other flood-related issues, visit NDSU’s flood information Web page at

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Greg Lardy, (701) 231-7660,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
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