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Equipment safety considerations vital during haying season

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Haying season is in full swing, and regardless of experience with heavy equipment in the hayfield, it’s important producers take caution when harvesting their hay.

“As with many hazards on the farm, perceived risk is often reduced below actual risk level due to familiarity with the operation,” states Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service Livestock and Forages Agent Amber Starn in an April 14, 2021 article. “The speed at which equipment operates and with which incidents can occur are often underestimated. Many times, the operator overestimates their ability to react to the situation.”

For instance, Starn notes a power take-off (PTO) shaft rotating at 540 revolutions per minute has a wrap rate of seven feet per second; a baler traveling just three miles per hour will pull forage in at the rate of four feet per second and belts, chains and pulleys operating on many pieces of haying equipment have a pull-in rate of 66 feet per second. 

“A person can never win a race with a machine,” says Starn. 

Getting to the field

Prior to getting out in the hayfield, producers need to review operators’ manuals and follow equipment maintenance guidelines. Cleaning, lubrication and replacement of worn parts can also reduce risk of injury and downtime during hay harvest. 

As producers transport equipment to the hayfield, they also need to ensure it is roadworthy. 

“Ensure lights, flashers and turn signals are in working order and slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblems are clean, clearly visible and in the proper location on equipment,” says Starn. “Make sure the extremities of balers, mowers, rakes, etc., have reflectors or reflective tape to alert motorists to the width of the farm equipment traveling on the road.”

Starn reminds individuals to always return equipment to “roadway position” before leaving a field so it is as narrow as possible when driving down the road with other traffic. 

Lastly, Starn recommends planning a route to avoid peak traffic hours and congested roadways and to avoid traveling during times of the day when there is limited visibility. 

Mower safety

Before starting up their mower, it is highly recommended individuals walk the meadow to ensure there isn’t any debris or other obstacles that could clog mowers or balers. Additionally, they should evaluate crop density and condition, as this will affect operating speed.

“A heavy crop, poor drying conditions and too high of operating speeds can cause plugging or clogging, and each time a person leaves the operator’s seat to deal with plugging or clogging issues, they potentially put themselves at risk,” says Starn.

She notes cutter bar incidents, usually from unplugging clogs or servicing equipment while not following recommended safety protocol, can result in lacerations and even amputations. 

Therefore, it is good practice when using any kind of heavy equipment to disengage the PTO and turn off the tractor. 

For disc mowers, conditioners or mower-conditioner combos, it is important to properly mount window guards, since they run the risk of throwing objects, such as rocks. It is also important to keep other individuals away from the back of this equipment during operation.   

Proper baler operation

Since balers are increasingly complex machines, posing a long list of potential hazards – entanglement, pull-in hazards, wrap points, pinch points and crush points, just to name a few – it is essential the individual operating the baler has in-depth knowledge of the equipment they are using. 

While operating balers, it is important to make sure all protective devices are in place and in working order. 

Operators should never attempt to clean, lubricate or adjust their baler unless the tractor is turned off, the ignition key is removed, the PTO is disengaged and all moving parts have stopped turning. They should also never attempt to unplug or clean out their baler while it is operating. 

“Make sure there are no bystanders when raising or lowering the rear gate or ejecting bales. Do not eject round bales on slopes where they can roll. Discharge round bales only on level ground,” Starn suggests. “Never stand under a raised rear gate or bale chamber gate, and always ensure the safety lock is in place when inspecting or working on the baler while the back gate or bale chamber gate is raised.”

Handling, hauling

and stacking

Today, many producers put their hay up as round bales or large squares. Handling, hauling and stacking these bales, which is often done with a front-end loader, can also pose potential safety risks. 

“Use an attachment designed for handling round bales, such as a grappling hook or bale spear,” states Starn. “These attachments, if properly used, will reduce the potential for bales to roll back on loader arms or the operator.”

She also encourages individuals to be mindful of pinch and crush points when using a front-end loader and to pay close attention to overhead power lines. 

“The center of gravity of a tractor changes – moving upwards – when bales are raised, increasing the chances of overturns. Use counterweights to improve stability when handling big bales, and remember the watchwords – go slow and keep the load low,” she says.

When transporting bales, individuals should be sure to use an appropriate size of tractor and wagon or trailer to handle the weight. When using a pickup truck, they should ensure it has the necessary braking power to stop the load.

“Make sure hitch pins and safety chains are of proper size and securely attached. If transporting on public highways, follow all traffic laws regarding wide loads and properly secure loads. Ensure all SMV emblems are clearly visible and consider using an escort vehicle with wide loads,” Starn concludes. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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