Jim Whittle treats all of his alfalfa with a preservative and says it increases the hay’s relative feed value by eight to 10 points.

This Gooding, ID, grower is one of the first to try Raincoat, a new hay preservative applied when the crop is cut. Its active ingredient is food-grade silicone, which is said to coat hay, preventing leaf shatter. The protection is claimed to last through storage if hay is baled at up to about 20% moisture. For hay baled at higher moisture levels, First Response, a silicone-based, baler-applied product, is recommended.

“Silicone prevents mold from accessing its food sources and oxygen,” says Eddie Toms. “It helps prevent mold from occurring in the windrow, and because it softens the leaves, it also prevents a lot of leaf shatter during rainfalls and dews.”

Toms is with PolyExcel, LLC, Clearfield, UT, which is distributing the preservatives for Nurturite, LLC, Twin Falls, ID. Mark Folkman, Nurturite president, says silicone (polydimethylsiloxane) was identified as an effective preservative during company experiments conducted “to see if there was a better way of putting up hay besides using acid, an enzyme or a bacterial product. Silicone came to mind, and we tested it and found it very effective at doing what we were trying to do with it.”

Folkman, whose company also makes additives for silage and baleage, says First Response is as effective in baled hay as buffered propionic acid, and the protection lasts longer.

“It will stay with the hay the whole time it’s curing and fed out, where buffered acid will volatilize off,” he says.

Toms figures the baler-applied preservative fits best for growers with lower-quality alfalfa or grass hay, while the cutting-time product makes the most sense for those aiming for dairy-quality alfalfa hay. They haven’t been tested at a university, but university trials are planned within the next two years, he adds.

At a cost of $3-6 per ton, First Response is less expensive than products containing propionic acid. Raincoat costs $6-8 per treated ton. Special application equipment, available from PolyExcel, is recommended for both preservatives.

Whittle grows 600 acres of alfalfa, targeting the southern Idaho dairy market. He tried Raincoat shortly after it was introduced two years ago, and now uses it every time he cuts.

“There are three main benefits,” he says. “I can bale with higher moisture content, I get better dry matter retention and it allows me to bale a little sooner.”

In his side-by-side comparisons of treated and untreated windrows, the preservative has always shown a quality advantage, he says. He also uses First Response as needed.

“When it’s going to rain or if I need to finish a field and the dew is starting to come on, I just turn it on and keep going,” says Whittle. “I’ve baled at up to 30% moisture, but wouldn’t recommend it. The bales are heavy, and it’s hard on the baler. I would consistently bale at 22%.”

For more information, contact Toms at 763-244-5972 or eftoms@visi.com.