Why Does Hay Get Dusty And What Causes It?

Dusty hay can present challenges for both livestock and farmers. It affects palatability, and nutritional value, and can even pose health risks to animals. Today we will delve into the reasons why hay gets dusty, explore its causes, discuss the importance of identifying it early, and provide practical tips on preventing and managing dust in hay.

What is Dusty Hay and Why Does it Get Dusty?

Dusty hay refers to the fine particles that become airborne when handling or patting a hay bale. It comprises various components, including leaf or weed particles, ground dust, and mould spores. While a certain level of dust is expected in all hay, excessive dust is often an indicator of poor-quality hay.

The Importance of Addressing Dusty Hay

Dusty hay poses challenges in terms of palatability, nutritional value, and animal health. Poor quality hay can lead to potential nutrient deficiencies, although livestock may reject dust-laden forage in favour of more nutritious alternatives.

The inhalation of dust particles can also irritate the respiratory system and compromise animal well-being through health issues such as Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Dust not only affects the quality of the hay itself but also poses risks to other stored hay, potentially leading to cross-contamination and compromising the value of the entire hay supply. It is crucial to address hay issues early to ensure optimal feed quality, prevent nutrient deficiencies, maintain animal health, and safeguard the overall value of the hay inventory.

Causes of Dusty Hay

The dustiness of hay can stem from a range of factors.

  • Poor Storage Conditions: Hay stored in inadequate conditions, such as in open areas without proper cover or ventilation, is more prone to accumulating dust or mould particles.
  • Hay Processing Techniques: Certain processing techniques, such as aggressive baling or improper handling during harvesting, can lead to increased dust generation.
  • Agricultural Practices: The use of certain agricultural practices, such as improper field preparation or insufficient drying time before baling, can result in hay that is more susceptible to dust accumulation.
  • Pollen and Allergens: Depending on the location and surrounding environment, hay can collect pollen and other allergens, contributing to its dustiness.
  • Storage with Other Dusty Materials: Storing hay in close proximity to other dusty materials, such as sawdust or grain, can lead to cross-contamination and increased dust levels.
  • Pests and Infestations: The presence of pests, such as mites or insects in the hay, can contribute to the release of dust particles.
  • Weather Conditions: Extreme weather conditions, including drought or heavy rains, can impact the quality of hay and increase the likelihood of dust accumulation.
  • Hay Age and Quality: Older hay or hay of lower quality may be more prone to dustiness due to the degradation and breakdown of its components over time.
  • Handling and Transportation Practices: Improper handling or rough transportation methods can cause hay bales to break apart or create dust during loading, unloading, and transit.
  • Harvesting Timing: Harvesting hay during unfavourable weather conditions or when there is excessive plant moisture content can result in higher dust levels in the bales.

It’s important to address these factors to minimise dustiness and ensure the quality of the hay for optimal use and animal health.

What about Dust Free Hay?

Although you may see hay advertised as not having any dust in it, these claims can be misleading. As outlined in the reasons above, dust and particles may continue to accumulate over time and with transport and storage. That said, some dust is not an issue.

There are a range of ways to extract dust from hay, but doing this at a large scale can be prohibitive, so dust-free hay is more commonly sold for smaller animals, or horses that have a specific dietary or allergy requirement.

How do you Keep Hay from Getting Dusty?

Prevention is better than cure, so following these proactive measures can help reduce or eliminate dusty hay concerns:

  • Proper curing: Ensure hay is properly cured before baling to minimise dust formation.
  • Storage in sheds: Store hay in well-maintained sheds to protect it from the elements and maintain its quality.
  • Dryness maintenance: Keep the hay dry throughout storage to prevent moisture accumulation and mould growth.
  • Air circulation: Stack bales on edge to promote better air circulation, which helps preserve their shape and reduce dustiness.

Sometimes, despite all the best prevention methods, factors outside our control can lead to dust-impacted forage. If you’re dealing with hay compromised by dust accumulation, consider the following options:

  • Water treatment: For hay with ground dust, spray or soak it with water to minimise the risk of dust inhalation when livestock are consuming it.
  • Nutritional supplementation: Enhance the nutritional value of low-quality feed containing excessive dust by supplementing it with high-quality grass or legume hay, oilseed meals, or by-product feeds.
  • Severe mould contamination: In cases of extensive mould contamination, disposal may be necessary. Remove mouldy parts or discard the entire bale, ensuring the safety of the animals consuming the hay.

Understanding the causes and implications of feed containing excessive dust is crucial for livestock owners and farmers. By implementing proper storage practices, maintaining suitable moisture levels, and supplementing lower-quality hay, farmers can ensure their animals receive adequate nutrition and minimise health risks associated with dusty hay.

With careful management and appropriate interventions, the impact can in many cases be effectively mitigated, promoting the well-being of both animals and agricultural operations.