Starting with dry bales is of utmost importance. Like any organic material, straw will decompose if the right conditions of moisture and temperature exist, and by ensuring that the moisture content is low, you remove one of the essential factors for decomposition.

Like methods for determining tightness, methods for determining moisture content vary in complexity. For the low-tech option, open the strings on several different bales and look inside. Is the straw moist to the touch? Is it crisp? Does it smell damp? Are there any hints of black mold on the straw? Study the storage facility. Is the roof good? How about the floor and walls? Ask the farmer about the weather conditions when the straw was baled. Was it a damp summer with lots of rain? Typically, if bales pass these tests, they are fine to use.

If you are buying bales from a previous year's harvest, the survival of the bales without rot or mold occurring can tell you that they are adequately dry.

If you want to be more scientific, use a moisture meter to get an accurate reading of moisture content. The farmer may own a meter or may be able to borrow one from a neighbor or from a co-op. Moisture meters are most

3.3: The strings of a bale shouldn't lift more than 5 to 6-inches when you lift the bale. The bale should keep its shape and not bend or sag.

3.4: If you can find straw that is being stored in a well roofed barn, chances are it is nice and dry. Leave it in the barn until you actually need it.

often used on hay bales but can give accurate readings for straw as well. Moisture content of 20 percent is considered the safe maximum for a building bale (this is the same figure for lumber). To calculate the dry density of a bale, subtract the weight of the moisture from the overall weight of the bale.

Keep in mind that farmers don't want wet bales either. Moist bales will mold in the barn and make for lousy bedding for the livestock. It is common farming practice to bale straw under good dry conditions, and to keep it dry once it has been baled.

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