This article was written by Jason Hartschuh, OSU Extension Field Specialist Dairy Management and Precision Livestock (originally posted in Farm & Dairy.)
“Maintaining forage quality with small dry-weather windows can be done by using baleage instead of dry hay. The ideal conditions for baleage is to bale the hay between 40 to 65% moisture and wrap within two hours of baling. This process uses anaerobic conditions and the acids produced in fermentations to preserve hay.
Baleage fermentation is slower than in haylage, often taking six weeks. When forage is baled between 25 to 40% moisture, it will not ferment properly and baleage at these moisture levels should be considered as temporary storage.
During such situations, preservation is primarily a function of maintaining anaerobic, oxygen-limiting conditions. Mold is more likely at this moisture; higher bale densities and more wraps of plastic is required to better seal out oxygen. Baleage at this moisture will not maintain quality for long term in storage, and thus, it needs to be fed as soon as possible.
Have a plan
Baleage can be utilized as a plan or as a backup, but the best baleage is a plan and not a rescue. A recent study conducted at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research center investigated the benefits of wrapping 25% moisture hay. This moisture has often been considered no man’s land, as it is too wet to safely bale with preservatives as dry hay and to dry to bale as baleage. This study investigated heating of the wrapped hay versus unwrapped with preservatives. Wrapping hay significantly reduced heating with no protein degradation compared to unwrapped hay.
When propionic acid was added at baling to the wrapped bales, not only was heating reduced, but after 84 days in wrapped storage the bales exhibited improved aerobic stability for the following 33 days it was monitored. This means that the hay would have improved bunk life.
While keeping oxygen out is the most important part of making high-quality baleage, it starts with mowing. When baleage is the planned storage method, your harvest capacity-limiting factor will be how many bales you can wrap an hour with the ideal goal of wrapping the bales within four hours.
Based on research done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we recommend laying swaths as wide as your mower will allow, helping preserve forage quality and speeds up drying to 65% moisture by 10.8 hours. When baling, your goal needs to be for the highest-density bales that you can make. Increasing density from 6 pounds/foot 3 to 8 pounds/foot 3, you gain an extra 12 hours of bunk life in the haylage due mostly to better bale fermentation.
It is important to wrap bales as soon as possible after baling to avoid spoilage. Most bale wrap is one mil low-density polyethylene and bales need a minimum of 5 mils of plastic to seal out oxygen, requiring a minimum of six wraps. Types of plastic vary greatly in their stretchiness, which can reduce thickness by up to 25%. Some stretch is necessary so that the plastic stays sticky and seals well between the layers of plastic.
Be cautious when wrapping in the rain, as this will reduce the stickiness and allow more oxygen to penetrate, causing spoilage. Also, be cautious when wrapping forages that poke through the plastic which will require more layers. When oxygen enters the bale, they start to heat and quality declines when temperatures are over 120ºF. The amount of time until bales are wrapped and the number of mils of wrap significantly affects internal bale temperature.
After bales are wrapped, handle them carefully using a squeeze so that plastic is not torn. If plastic is torn in storage, the tears should be taped as soon as you notice them. For this reason, bales should be inspected weekly in storage. Never use bale spears to move wrapped haylage until the day you are going to feed it. It is recommended that bales be fed within a year of wrapping.
Baleage that is too wet, over 60% moisture, should be feed within three months, and baleage that is below 40% will not ferment well and should be fed within six months. Most of the time when we make baleage as a rescue, it falls in the range of needing to be fed within six months. When done right, baleage can last a year and make excellent feed.
When done wrong, Baleage can spoil, mold and grow organisms that will make your animals sick; use your eyes and nose to be sure that the forage you are going to feed is of high quality. Don’t force animals to eat forage they don’t want.”
Shelby Tedrow is an Agriculture and Natural Resources and 4-H Program assistant for Wayne County Extension. She can be reached at 330-264-8722.
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This article was previously published in The Daily Record.