Hay harvest has begun. Many fields in the area have reached the pre-bloom or 10% bloom stage necessary for high quality hay.  By the time this article reaches the paper, most of this year’s first cutting of the hay crop will be complete. However, it is always a good idea to review some of the important safety items with yourself, family members and employees who are involved with the farming operation.

The hazards with large bale equipment have a greater potential for harm due to the size and horsepower of the machinery. But the biggest risk is the size of the product - which in itself causes most of the problems. 

A large bale can weigh anywhere from 500 lbs. to 1-1/2 tons. This size can present a threat to human life and limb in all phases of the baling process.

Knowledge is crucial — It is every farmer’s responsibility to know the specific requirements, precautions and hazards associated with a particular operation. The manual that is provided with every piece of equipment is the primary source of information on safe, efficient operation. Anyone who runs the machinery should review this material. It is the responsibility of the farm owner or manager to make sure that all employees are well trained in the operation of equipment they will be using. 

Advance preparation makes safety sense — Comprehensive maintenance in advance of the major use season can minimize downtime in the field. In addition to improving harvest efficiency, this pre-season preparation may also prevent an accident.

Following is a checklist of procedures which can help detect potential hazards and improve the efficiency of your baler: 

• Clean the baler thoroughly to remove crop residues, mouse nests, and other debris. 

• Lubricate according to manufacturer’s specs.

• Check for loose or missing nuts, screws, guards, or damaged pickup teeth. Replace missing guards and shields.

• Inspect all belts and chains for evidence of wear or breakage. Belt tension should be matched to prevent slippage, which can cause plugging and damage due to heat buildup. 

• Hydraulic hoses should be clean, in good repair and hooked up correctly. 

• Check the twine feeding and cutting mechanisms for proper operation

• Check lights, reflectors and SMV. 

• Properly operating fire extinguishers should be mounted on both tractor and baler.

• Check the condition of tires. 

• Inspect the hydraulic system, using a scrap of wood or cardboard (not your hand!) to detect leaks.

Never attempt to clean, lubricate, or adjust the baler unless the tractor engine is turned off, the PTO disengaged, and the ignition key removed. Walk around the equipment before starting. Check that the rear gate is securely closed. Make sure there is no one in the vicinity. Let others know you are starting up, and don’t do so until everyone is clear of the danger area. 

Large bale handling hazards — Serious accidents associated with large bale systems seem to be happening during the handling of the big hay packages.

A number of operators have been seriously injured when improperly secured bales rolled down the arms of front-end tractor loaders. It is strongly recommended that tractors used to handle the big bales be equipped with 4-post rollover protective structures (ROPS), if available for your model of tractor. 

However, we shouldn’t be relying on ROPS to cushion the blow, and bales shouldn’t be moving down loader arms to begin with! A loader should be equipped with a spear or grapple that is specifically designed for handling the size of a large bale that is being produced on-farm. Most importantly, the loader should incorporate a restraining device that will prevent a bale that has come loose from sliding backward. 

The loader tractor must be large enough and equipped with sufficient counterweight to handle bales safely. Set wheels at maximum width to increase stability. 

As with any loader operation, avoid sudden starts, stops or changes of direction. Always keep the bale as low as possible for maximum stability. A one ton bale puts the center of gravity at a precarious level when a loader is raised high. The risk of a bale breaking free is also greater when the loader is raised. Be extremely cautious, and travel only at low speed. 

Hauling Bales

Specialized bale wagons and trailers that carry multiple bales at a time can save time and reduce the risk of overturns and of overloading a tractor’s hydraulic system.

• When using a wagon or trailer to haul bales, choose a tractor that can maneuver and stop a wagon or trailer carrying the weight of the bales.

• Ensure that the wagon or trailer is properly hitched to the tractor’s drawbar by using a safety pin and a safety chain. 

• Properly secure the bales on the wagon or trailer by using straps that have a tensile strength of one-and-half times the weight of the load.

• When transporting large bales on a public roadway, remember to follow all traffic laws related to wide loads. The trailer or wagon should be highly visible and equipped with reflectors, and warning lights.

Source: Safety Recommendations When Baling and Handling Round Bales. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from http://www.extension.org/pages/64301/safety-recommendations-when-baling-and-handling-round-bales.