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Stay safe during silage baling
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Stay safe during silage baling

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Round bale silage systems create some unique safety problems for farmers and contractors, so despite the rush, safety has to be in focus at all times.
Round bale silage systems create some unique safety problems for farmers and contractors, so despite the rush, safety has to be in focus at all times.

Round bale silage systems create some unique safety problems for farmers and contractors. Large round balers have many moving parts that can cause injury or death if a person becomes entangled.

You should never leave the tractor seat until the PTO drive has been disengaged and all moving parts have stopped. Balers and bale handling equipment should carry warning signs or labels and you need to pay heed to them.

Start with the tractor and make sure that the tractor size is properly matched to the size of the baler. If the tractor is too small or light, the baler may push it down a hill.

With poor traction on grassy slopes, the brakes may lock, causing the wheels to slide and the tractor to go out of control.

Before servicing, cleaning or adjusting a round baler, disengage the tractor PTO and shut off the engine. Never attempt to pull silage, netwrap or twine from an operating baler.

Heat can build up due to friction created by contact of dry grass material with faulty bearings and baler belts. This can cause overheating and lead to the baler going on fire.

Some farmers have been burned trying to deal with a baler fire. Always carry a dry chemical fire extinguisher on the tractor.

Bystander dangers

A round baler is a bulky machine and the operator has poor vision to the rear. Make sure that no one is near the rear gate when it is being raised and lowered. Round bales can roll after being discharged when on hilly terrain. Because of their weight, these silage bales can cause significant injury if they roll into or fall on an individual.

Operating round balers on a slope needs special attention. Bales on a slope have the potential to roll down the hill, break through fences and cross roads, leading to potential human injuries and property damage. Always orient the bale correctly before ejecting it from the bale chamber. Sometimes this just means backing the baler at the right angle to eject the bale perpendicular to the slope. The aim is to make certain that the bale will come to rest securely on the hillside. Steep slopes may require that the bale be moved to a flat area before ejection from the baler.

Handling bales with care

Tractor front-end loaders are commonly used to move and stack large round bales.

Be careful when hauling large round bales on a front-end loader so that you avoid side overturns and being crushed from a bale rolling down on the tractor. It is extremely important that the size of the tractor and loader are matched properly to the size and weight of the bales being handled.

When a large round bale is carried on the tractor front-end loader close to the ground, the centre of gravity moves forward, making the tractor less stable.

Some operators will carry the load high for improved visibility while driving. However, when the loader is raised, the centre of gravity moves even more forward and higher, making the tractor even less stable and the potential for a side overturn increases further.

A loss of traction occurs when weight is transferred from the rear tyres during bale handling with a front-end loader. This can be a problem when moving bales up a slope or on wet soil. Loss of traction can result in a braking loss on all surfaces.

For smaller tractors, it is better to handle bales with rear attachments rather than with the front-end loader. Rear tyres are better suited to carry the extra weight, and there is less chance of side overturns because the bale is not lifted as high.

Avoid lifting bales with a three-point lift on the rear to a height where the front tractor wheels are barely in contact with the ground as this causes steering and stability problems. At least 30% of the front weight of the tractor should remain on the front wheels.

Bale trailers

Special low clearance trailers that carry four to 10 bales and also load bales directly from the ground are widely used.

Since these trailers can carry four to 10 bales, there can be a problem with stopping the load. At over 600kg per bale, load size is often between 2.5t and 6t. Add the weight of the bale trailer to this and the total transport weight approaches 8t.

Use a lower gear when going downhill since the tractor brakes alone may not be able to stop the load. Do not attempt to change gears during descent, begin descent in a low gear. When going uphill, also use a low gear, so that you will not have to hold the load with the tractor brakes while changing gears up the slope.

Baler safety tips

  • During operation, remain seated on the tractor seat to reduce the chance of falling into the path of the baler. Never allow passengers to ride on the baler during operation or transport.
  • Be extremely cautious when operating a baler on uneven or hilly ground. Round balers are top-heavy (high centre of gravity) and could tip sideways if one wheel drops in a hole, ditch or other irregularity, especially if carrying a near-completed bale.
  • Avoid sharp turns; with the tractor wheels set wide to straddle windrows, rear tyres could strike the drawbar and pick-up on sharp turns.
  • Never be in a hurry about anything connected with the baling operation.
  • Keep safety signs clean, readable and free from obstructing material.
  • Most baler injuries and fatalities occur from bales rolling out of the loading forks or bucket onto the operator.
  • Know the tractor, the implements and how they work. Be thoroughly familiar with both the manual and the tractor before starting.
  • Know the controls, where they are located and how they work. Practice stopping the tractor and PTO quickly in the event of an emergency.
  • Be familiar with the terrain and drive safely. Use caution on slopes and slow down for all turns.
  • While on public roads, use appropriate lighting and follow all rules of the road.
  • Keep the PTO properly shielded.
  • Keep hitches low and always tow or pull from the drawbar. The tractor is designed so that it will not overturn backwards if the load is hitched properly to the drawbar.
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