Hay Combustion a 'Very Scary Reality'
This week, temperatures in the Midwest soared to near 100 degrees, and for the Folkerts family of Allison, Iowa, that heat led to the loss of a barnful of hay.
"Urging everyone to keep an eye on their hay," Holly Folkerts wrote on the Women in Agriculture Facebook page on Tuesday, sharing the photos featured here. "Unfortunately, my family lost our barn and all the hay stored inside it this morning. Check your bale temps: Anything above 140 degrees is dangerous; at 160 degrees and higher you can have smoldering and a fire/hay combustion. Wet hay is your enemy. Hay combustion is a very scary reality."
Folkerts isn't the only member of the Women in Agriculture group who has faced this issue. Betty Fredrickson Janke writes, "Timely message. We just pulled some big squares out that had started to smolder. We think we got it in time. Lost 100 big squares two years ago but not the shed. Didn't want a repeat."
"We lost quite a bit of hay, which is a big hit," Folkerts says. "Our insurance should cover it, though. Now it's a waiting game for the hay to burn out and then the dreaded cleanup."
Despite the loss, Folkerts says, "My family was very lucky. My aunt and uncle's house is across the road, and they had no damage to their home, and no one was hurt!"
Make sure hay is dry before storing
Barn safety consultant Laurie Loveman tells our sister site, Living the Country Life, that when bales are stored with too much moisture in them, microorganisms begin to feed and multiply, generating heat.
Hay should be baled at a moisture concentration of 20% or less. Make sure you know how well-cured the hay is before putting it in the barn.
"And then, once it's in the barn, you have to measure the temperature," Loveman says. "As temperatures reach different levels, you have different concerns as far as what might be happening in the middle of that stack of hay that you can't see. Because it could be heating up very slowly and not getting enough oxygen to burn. But if a hay bale is removed and oxygen is allowed in, that whole stack goes instantly."
New hay should be checked twice a day for six weeks, because fresh-baled hay carries the most risk for spontaneous combustion.
Taking the temperature
Check the temperature by driving a probe into the center of the stack, and letting it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Pull the rod out with your bare hand. If you can hold it comfortably, the reading is below 130 degrees. If you can hold it, but it's a bit uncomfortable, it's probably in the 130- to 160-degree range. Anything above that will feel like you've just picked up a hot coal, and a fire could be imminent.
Even if you don't find problems with the stack, you can't let your guard down.
"Sometimes even if you have good cured hay, and you have a leaky roof, and heavy rain, the water comes in and gets in the hay, and that can also start the spontaneous combustion process all over again," Loveman says. "And you again have that danger of the hay igniting."
Store the hay in a separate building from livestock. If there's a fire, animals living in the barn will be safe.