Baleage Gains in Popularity as Method to Produce High-Quality Forage
By Kelsi Mayer
Baleage continues to grow as an efficient method to produce high-quality forage. Not only is it a timelier method of harvesting forage than dry hay, it also results in lower harvest and storage losses.
“Baleage is a relatively low-cost investment for smaller producers,” says Dr. Kevin Shinners, University of Wisconsin-Madison Ag Engineer. “If done successfully, it will result in lower losses, low spoilage and the forage is more readily available.”
In comparison to dry hay, baleage requires less drying time, has lower losses at harvest during storage, produces a more uniform product, and requires no taxable structure. When compared to chopped silage, baled silage requires less expensive equipment, has a wider moisture range, allows for targeted feeding, requires no taxable structure, and is ideal for small operations.
When making baleage, the forage is cut just as it would be for making hay, only it is baled at higher moisture content, rather than at 18-20% moisture. “My aim is to target 45-55% moisture,” states Shinners.
Baling at the proper moisture content is the single most important variable. Making baleage at above 65% moisture content reduces the feed quality of the forage and the amount of dry matter stored per bag, greatly increasing storage cost. Baleage with inadequate moisture reduces fermentation and increases chances of mold production if the film integrity is compromised, greatly increasing storage losses.
Individually-wrapped bales occupy less area than tube-wrapped bales and are convenient for targeted feeding. They are also a marketable product and there is less aerobic loss at feedout.
When choosing a plastic to wrap baleage, look for blown low-density polyethylene that is about one mil (25 microns) thick. During the process of wrapping bales, the plastic is stretched in order to increase cling and form a tight seal; that’s why it’s essential to start out with the appropriate thickness. Additionally, it is important to always buy your plastic from a reputable source to assure high quality. The number of wraps you want to use greatly depends on the film quality, thickness and film density. “The No. 1 mistake producers make is not using enough layers of wrap,” says Shinners. Generally, he recommends five to eight layers of wrap (with 50% overlap). With lower moisture content, more layers of wrap are needed. He also suggests using more layers as needed when moisture decreases, maturity increases, or if the crop you are baling has sharp stems.
In addition, a timely wrapping process is required. Maintaining as short of an interval between baling and wrapping as possible is essential. A maximum of four hours is recommended to reduce crop exposure to air. This time window should be reduced even further in high temperatures.
After going to all of the hard work of producing a high quality crop, it’s imperative to properly store it to assure it retains that quality until the time you feed it. Moving bales to storage within two hours after wrapping is strongly recommended. Bale handling can cause film layers to relocate, thus breaking the seal. Bales should be stored in a well-drained area, away from animal activity, pests and rodents, and where you can maintain a watchful eye. Wrapped bales can be stacked, although Shinners recommends avoiding this practice when bales are higher in moisture, as this will cause the bales to “squish” and possibly break the plastic wrap seal.
Plastic film used for wrapping bales is generally unlawful to open burn in most states. Kuhn North America strongly encourages you to research your state’s laws and regulations. Even if film burning is allowed, open, low-temperature burning releases toxins and potential carcinogens. Contact your state DNR and ask them to provide you with a list of regional recyclers.
In order to gain the most value when making baleage, stick to these key tips:
- Cut wide windrows
- Condition well to wilt quickly
- Don’t cut too low, dirt can create poor fermentation
- Avoid raking soil into windrow
- Bale at 45-55% moisture
- Make uniform bale shape and size
- Avoid treated twine, it can damage film
- Use good quality plastic
- Stretch to 70-80% of original width
- Minimum 5 (high moisture) to 8 layers (low moisture)
- Avoid wet conditions
- Wrap close to storage site
- Wrap within 4 hours of baling
- As minimal as possible – avoid after 12 hours
- Use squeeze, avoid over pinching
- Making bales as large as you can handle greatly decreases storage, handling and plastic used
- Avoid woods, sharp stubble, poorly drained areas, and wildlife
- Store round bales on end – more plastic, less “squish”
- Avoid stacking at high moisture