Safe bale handling – A farmer’s guide to minimising risk

Published 27th June 2024
Feeding All Studies Health and Welfare

Agriculture consistently ranks among the most hazardous occupations worldwide. In the European Union alone, it accounts for the highest number of fatal workplace accidents, with a significant proportion attributed to machinery-related incidents. Similar trends are observed in other countries, in the United States, the National Safety Council estimates that in 2020, there were approximately 120,000 medically consulted injuries on farms in the U.S.

While many factors contribute to these sobering statistics, the risks associated with handling hay bales or silage bales with machinery like tractors and front-end loaders cannot be ignored.

Working with hay and silage bales is a daily reality for many farmers and ranchers. From heavy loads to potential instability, safety should always be a top priority. Fortunately, smart equipment choices and good practices can significantly reduce hazards. 


Choosing the right equipment

  • Always ensure the attachment you choose is suitable for the size and weight of the bales you’re handling. Overloading equipment can lead to accidents. Consider factors like bale dimensions, weight and the terrain you’re working on.

Hustler’s LiftMax Bale Forks offer exceptional stability. They’re available in two sizes to handle different bale weights, with a heavy-duty 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) capacity model for the largest loads. Their wide back frame provides extra security against accidental drops.

Hustler’s Softhands Bale Handlers offer a good alternative to bale forks, with a safe grip. Suited for dry hay bales and ideal for silage/wrapped bales, their unique curved, tapered arms grip bales gently, minimising damage to the plastic wrap (crucial for silage). The range includes two models to suit different bale sizes and shapes. They also feature the patented floating Equaliser bar, keeping the hands moving simultaneously, which makes handling bales safer and easier for the operator.

Hustler’s GrappleMax Grapple Buckets are ideal for handling large, heavy bales, especially those that might be misshapen or difficult to grab with traditional forks. Their powerful hydraulic claws provide a secure grip, reducing the risk of dropped bales.


Checking your load

  • Inspect bales for damage or instability before lifting. Avoid lifting damaged or mishaped bales if you can, or be particularly careful, as they can easily come apart and pose a risk.
  • Also, ensure the load is balanced and centred on the forks or attachment. Uneven loads can cause the tractor or the telehandler to tip.


Operating with caution

  • Even if you’re in a rush to get that hay in or covered before the rain comes, drive slowly and avoid sudden movements. Bales can shift unexpectedly, especially on uneven terrain.
  • Keep the load low to the ground during transport. A higher centre of gravity increases the risk of tipping. 
  • Avoid stacking bales too high. Follow safe stacking guidelines to prevent collapses.
  • Make sure you know the capacity of your tractor or front end-loader to prevent being crushed from a bale rolling down upon the tractor cab if lifted too high.


Cutting strings and net wraps safely

When it comes to feeding out bales, whether it’s in a hay ring/feeder, with a feedout wagon, or a bale processor/unroller, removing the net wrap or plastic film can cause injuries.

  • Before attempting to cut the net, make sure the bale is secured. Always keep in mind that cutting strings or nets can remove pressure points and cause the bale to move.
  • Make sure to position yourself in a way that you have an easy escape route if the bale falls.
  • As much as possible, try to remove the net while the bale is still on the ground.

Hustler’s BaleSlice Bale Cutters allow you to cut the wrap of silage bales without leaving the tractor cab, minimising your exposure to potential hazards. Their durable steel blades cleanly slice through wrap, as well as removing it simultaneously for speed and efficiency.


Maintaining your gear and hydraulics regularly

  • Regularly inspect and maintain your tractor’s hydraulic system. A malfunction can lead to sudden loss of control, potentially dropping a bale.

Even with the best equipment, proper training and adherence to safety guidelines are paramount! The key to safe and efficient systems for handling bales is an operator who knows the hazards involved and who follows safety practices that can prevent accidents. Beside pain and suffering, accidents contribute to higher costs in terms of unnecessary downtime or costly machine repairs. 

  • Keep people clear of the work area while handling bales.
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and potential hazards.
  • By prioritising safety and choosing the right equipment for the job, you can make bale handling a safer and more efficient part of your farming operation!



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Contact us today to learn more about Hustler Equipment’s range!