Swathers and balers and rakes, oh my! Haying season is upon us. To those still questioning whether it is worth getting your equipment out due to lingering drought conditions, those that ate through most (if not all) of the stockpiles, and those whose hay grounds are sitting underwater, please know my thoughts and prayers are with you. It feels like there is more at stake as we get underway with Hay 2022, which means now is as good a time as any for a few important safety reminders.

It all starts with maintenance. Well-maintained equipment is crucial to safe and efficient operation. Hay is a sensitive crop – narrow harvest windows leave little room for error, and any delay can seriously affect quality. By ensuring all equipment is adequately maintained, you are giving yourself the best opportunity for "making hay while the sun shines." For those with a variety of operators for each piece of equipment throughout the season, consider keeping a log book specific to each piece of equipment; record all services, repairs, operating hours, and any notes to help eliminate confusion and quickly correct any potential issues.

  • Read all operator’s manuals; become familiar with the service requirements for each piece of equipment – perform all scheduled maintenance at specified intervals.
  • Conduct regular "walk-arounds."
  • Keep all moving components greased.
  • Replace broken and worn parts.
  • Use all shields and guards.

Entanglements, severe cuts/lacerations, and equipment overturns are always concerns when working with equipment. Still, in the race against the clock that is haying, our carelessness can increase serious injuries. Everyone should know the specific hazards related to the equipment/tasks they will be operating/performing. In general:

  • Disengage all power before working on or around the equipment.
  • Never operate at speeds too great for conditions, equipment capacity, or operator capability.
  • Lock and block all hydraulics before working on or around.
  • Keep a charged fire extinguisher and basic first aid kit in each piece of equipment.

While it is relieving to have it all cut and baled, the real challenge can be transporting and storing it. Whether you are putting up barns full of little squares or yards of large rounds, the logistics of the final step of hay harvest can prove to be not only difficult but dangerous.

  • Keep size in mind when packaging little square bales; weight can quickly become unmanageable.
  • Minimize personnel in loading, unloading, and stacking areas.
  • Use equipment that is large and powerful enough to handle the bales.
  • Ensure adequate overhead clearance in loading, unloading, and stacking areas.
  • Never stand underneath a suspended load.
  • Stack straight and true – take the time to correct any leaning or crooked stacks (ignoring it won’t make it straighter.)

Taking care of yourself and your equipment can ensure a safe and profitable haying season. The greatest asset to your farm or ranch is the people who make it all possible. As we continue to cultivate a culture of safety through this current season, let me take a moment to remind you of a few last things:

  • When checking windrows, watch for snakes.
  • Stay hydrated and take time to nourish yourself; watch for signs of heat-related illness.
    1. Sudden onset of nausea, headache, dizziness, or confusion
    2. Extreme elevation in body temperature
    3. Lack of sweating and pale skin
  • Rest is necessary. A good 3 a.m. dew is hard to pass up when it makes the moisture right, but ensure you get adequate sleep.
  • Be sure slow-moving/oversized loads are appropriately marked and flaggers provided.
  • Review communication procedures to make sure the crew is accounted for and safe.

Before you know it, we will be back to feeding hay instead of putting it up. Here’s to a safe and successful hay season from corner to corner of the Big Sky. For more information regarding the Montana Ag Safety Program or task-specific safety, visit www.mtagrisafety.com or contact Dana Jansen at danaj@mtagrisafety.com or (406) 850-9978.