How to Dry Wet Cut Hay in the Field

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Wet hay should never be baled.
Wet hay should never be baled. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

When you cut hay, it has a high moisture content that must be reduced before you can bale and store it. If hay is baled and stored when it is wet, it is likely to get moldy, making it useless as animal feed. Wet hay can also heat up and cause spontaneous combustion, burning not only the hay but also barns, equipment, animals and more. To prevent such problems, hay must be properly dried in the field before it is baled and stored.

Things You'll Need

  • Tractor with hay rake, or hand rake
  • Pitchfork

Let the hay dry out as much as possible. If it has been rained on, it will need some time in the sun for the top layer to dry before you do anything to it.

Turn the rows of wet hay so that the wet hay on the bottom is exposed to air and sun, allowing it the chance to dry out. It will need to stay this way for several hours, depending on the weather. In warm, sunny weather hay dries quite quickly, especially if there is a breeze. If the sky is overcast, or if it is chilly, humid or there is no breeze, the hay will dry more slowly.

Spread the rows of wet hay out so that as much hay as possible is exposed to the sun. This hastens the drying process.

Rake the rows of hay, turning them to expose more of the hay to sunlight and air. Spread the raked rows out to hasten the drying process.

Repeat the raking and spreading process as many times as necessary to allow all of the wet hay to be exposed to the sun and air so that it can dry. How many times it should be raked and turned depends on the weather conditions at the time, how large the rows of hay are, and how wet the hay is. Bear in mind that every time you move the hay some of the leaves are knocked off, decreasing the nutritional value and making it less palatable. For best results, don’t rake it more than is necessary.

Tips & Warnings

  • Watch the weather and avoid cutting hay when rain is predicted. Don't cut right after a rain, as it will take the hay longer to dry. Hay that has been baled but left in the field through a rainstorm may need to be dried before being stored. If the rain was heavy and water has soaked into the bales, cut them open and spread the hay out to dry. Bale them again after the moisture is reduced. If there was not too much rain, the bales can be left whole and the damp surfaces allowed to dry out before being stored.
  • Never bale wet hay, as it can build up heat and burst into flame without warning. If the hay has been rained on and has gotten very wet, it may not have any value as livestock feed, since the nutrients will have been leached out of it. It should still be dried and baled and removed from the field to allow the next crop to grow. Use this poor quality hay as animal bedding or as garden mulch.

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