Baleage: An Option in Better Haymaking

– Travis Meteer, Extension Educator, Commercial Agriculture, University of Illinois

Throughout the Midwest, spring rains can make putting up dry hay very difficult. Last year, many producers struggled to get hay up without it getting rained on. This brings me to discuss baleage as an option for hay making.

It is easy to see the reasons why you should consider baleage. Making hay at higher moisture allows you to bale closer to cutting and shorten the window of dry weather needed to get hay up. It also leads to less leaf loss, less nutrient leaching, and that makes for better quality hay. Wrapping bales also leads to less storage loss.

Waiting on dry weather can also impact forage quality and productions. As forage continues to grow and mature the quality will decline. When producing dry hay, often times traffic is still an issue on fields as much as 5 days after cutting. This can drastically decrease yields for the next cutting. Baleage allows for a quick on and off of the field.

Timing is crucial in making baleage. I recommend cutting the forage in the afternoon if possible as the sugars will be the highest in the plant during the afternoon. Baling should occur with a target of 50% moisture in the bale. The targeted range should be no more than 40% to 60% moisture. When bale moisture gets on either side of that range, fermentation patterns will be poor.

Proper wrapping is very important. If the wrap is too thin, torn, or not quality plastic, your baleage will be sub-par. Baleage is only as good as the integrity of the plastic you use. Using net wrap will provide a smooth surface to wrap with less opportunity for air pockets or the plastic to be poked through.

Storage of the baleage needs to be in an area that can be monitored for rodents and raccoons. Anything that tears plastic or compromises the anaerobic environment will result in ruined baleage. Storing bales close to where they will be fed is wise. Moving bales after wrapping can be difficult. Spearing the bales or poking holes in the plastic will negatively impact the baleage. You may need to look into bale grabbers or methods of grabbing and moving bales without compromising the plastic.

A few tips:

-Monitor bale size. Large bales can weigh too much and be difficult to handle.

-For balers with knives, think about removing half of the knives to improve bale integrity and limit bales that “blow apart” once opening

-Use inoculants. Especially following a frost or in drier weather.

-Avoid dirt and manure contamination. Listeria and Clostriduim can be an issue and cause serious risk.

-Wrap will cost about $3-$5 per bale. Don’t short the layers of wrap needed to get a good seal.

-When doing a feed inventory or selling hay, remember half of the bale is water. Dry hay is only 15% moisture

EDITOR’s NOTE: For more detail on making baleage, see the publication entitled Large Round Bale Silage by James W. Garthe, instructor, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and Marvin H. Hall, assistant professor, Department of Agronomy at Penn State University.