Farmers who are getting ready to cut and bale hay should make a habit of checking equipment before heading out to the field.\r\n\u201cTake the time to check your equipment, and make sure it is in proper working order,\u201d said Scott DeNoon, farm product and underwriting manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. \u201cThis preparation may not only reduce field downtime but also may prevent accidents. Follow all of the manufacturer\u2019s recommendations, and inspect the equipment to make sure it\u2019s up to their specifications.\u201d\r\nCheck bearings, hydraulic hoses, tires and signal lights. Make sure cutter blades, teeth or bars are not bent or cracked and that the twine feeding mechanisms are working properly. Also, when replacing bolts, always use shear bolts on equipment.\r\nKeep a charged water or foam fire extinguisher on all hay equipment and an ABC-type extinguisher inside all work buildings. \u201cAlso remember to relay safety information to each employee and anyone else who helps you,\u201d DeNoon said. \u201cYou need to clearly define the safety expectations and mirror them for your helpers.\u201d\r\nBefore working on equipment, always shut it down, DeNoon said. \u201cNever attempt to hand feed or remove twine from a baler while it is running.\u201d\r\nMake sure all safety features\u2014power take-off shields, safety chains and chain guards\u2014are in place, along with slow-moving vehicle emblems and reflective tape. It\u2019s also a good idea to use an escort vehicle when moving hay on the roadways, DeNoon said.\r\nBefore loading hay, check all straps and chains for frays, breaks and tears, and replace them if they are damaged. Do not stack bales too high, and tie in stacks by alternating bales and securing each stack.\r\nStrap round bales in place so they will not roll off a wagon or trailer. Check that the points to which you tie or connect the straps are strong enough to support the load if it shifts.