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Keep hay bales off highways

Follow this advice for loading and strapping down hay to keep the roads safe this summer.

Allison Lund, Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

May 22, 2024

5 Min Read
Square hay bales strapped onto a semi truck
SAFE AND SECURE: This load displays a good example of a strapping job. Here, the transporter twisted the straps to prevent wind whipping. Photos by Purdue Pesticide Programs -

Bales of hay bouncing off a trailer and onto the highway is a nightmare that one hopes will never materialize. Hay producers can take steps to ensure that dreaded scenario won’t happen.

While most folks find what works for them and stick to those practices when hauling hay, many still fear that what they’re doing is not technically right or legal. Fred Whitford, director of Purdue Pesticide Programs, explains that learning the correct way to strap loads is one of the most important safety measures a farmer can take.

“This is not something that is just ‘one more safety thing’ just to be safer,” Whitford says. “The fact is that you’ll see tons of stuff on the road.”

How many straps?

To keep your cargo off the road, first determine how many straps you need for the load you’re hauling. A basic rule of thumb that Whitford shares is to have a strap for every 10 feet of the load. How you lay your straps is where you’ll have to find what works for you.

“It’s an art as much as it is a science,” Whitford adds. People must get creative because hay is a soft load, which means it’s going to shift. So, it’s important to find ways to compress that hay and keep it from moving too much.

The Indiana Department of Transportation addresses this concern with an alternative to the one strap for every 10 feet rule. As of 2019, DOT has advised running at least two parallel straps lengthwise over the top of the load, with at least four straps running from side to side.

Whitford says some transporters may add straps to the front and back of the load for additional security. For loads that are more than one layer high, he recommends blending the two rules for strapping loads.

View behind a pickup truck stacked full of straw bales, driving down a road

In addition to proper strapping, Brock Kiesler of Greenville, Ind., says how you stack a load will affect its stability, especially with small squares.

“You can strap them all day long, but if they’re not stacked tight and square and on the trailer well — and they’ve got to be good, tight, heavy bales — then you’ll have fits all the time,” Kiesler says. “They’ll blow off, they’ll fall off the side of the trailer — just anything can happen.”

Other loading considerations

Kiesler explains that marking the center of your trailer can make loading round bales a breeze. Doing this helps him ensure the load is centered. He also adds that, when strapping, he does things backward. Instead of rolling his straps with the hook in the center, he rolls them with the hook on the outside.

“I think it throws over cleaner, and you don’t have as many twists in the strap as it goes over the trailer,” Kiesler says. He adds that it saves time having to walk around the trailer to tighten the strap, with less trips around the trailer since you start with the hook on your side.

A hay load loosens up the most at the beginning of a trip, so Kiesler recommends stopping to check straps after embarking.

“On the first 10% of a trip, that’s where they’ll loosen up the most just because the load kind of shakes and settles in and pulls together,” Kiesler says. “So, it’s always good to stop on your first 25% to 50% of where you’re going to make sure it’s still tight and everything’s good.”

Developing these habits and routines didn’t happen overnight. Kiesler says it took years to find what works best for him. Whitford adds that these practices are not one-size-fits-all, but rather, each producer needs to find what meshes well with their operation.

“It’s just what people try to do based on experience to keep that hay in place,” Whitford says. “There’s nothing more dangerous, in my mind, than hay falling off of a truck.”

Should you change straps?

Before strapping down your hay load and heading out on the road, make sure you have the right straps for your load and that they’re in good condition.

Whitford says the working load limit of straps must equal at least half of the weight of the load. For example, consider a scenario where your load weighs 40,000 pounds and is 63 feet long.

Following the rule with one strap for every 10 feet, you would need at least seven straps. If you have straps with a WLL of 3,300 pounds, then the total WLL is 23,100 pounds. That is technically enough WLL for the load. However, to feel more secure, you could size up to straps with a WLL of 5,000 pounds for a total WLL of 35,000. It never hurts to add extra steps.

“You cannot over-strap a hay load,” Whitford says.

The other key component is to check the condition of your straps. Regularly check the entire length of straps for any cuts or wear. The cuts along the length of the strap cannot exceed a combined length of ⅜ inch for small straps, ⅝ inch for medium straps and ¾ inch for large straps. If you find yourself in that situation, it is time to replace your straps.

Visit Purdue Pesticide Programs Publication 75 for more information about strapping loads.

About the Author(s)

Allison Lund

Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Allison Lund worked as a staff writer for Indiana Prairie Farmer before becoming editor in 2024. She graduated from Purdue University with a major in agricultural communications and a minor in crop science. She served as president of Purdue’s Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow chapter. In 2022, she received the American FFA Degree. 

Lund grew up on a cash grain farm in south-central Wisconsin, where the primary crops were corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Her family also raised chewing tobacco and Hereford cattle. She spent most of her time helping with the tobacco crop in the summer and raising Boer goats for FFA projects. She lives near Winamac, Ind.

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