Bill Deetz doesn't have enough bunker storage for the 2,500 tons of haylage he annually harvests for his 425-cow dairy near Sugar Creek, OH. So after filling a 1,000-ton bunker silo with first-cutting haylage, he bags the remaining cuttings in 10 × 300' silage bags.

But instead of feeding from bags, he hires a local custom harvester with a Trac-hoe excavator to load haylage from two to three bags at a time into trucks that unload into the bunker once it's empty.

“If you just feed out of the bag, you get different moistures and different quality. With the Trac-hoe, it gets blended when it gets loaded. Then when you unload it and push it up into the bunker, it gets blended again,” says Deetz.

Bagging and blending haylage does make it a more consistent product, says Dan Sevcik, an independent dairy nutritionist and consultant who works with Deetz. That translates into better milk production and herd health, he adds.

“Cows don't like change and haylage is the feed that often has the most variation (i.e., changes within and between fields, moisture differences, quality differences between cuttings, etc.). Moving and blending bagged haylage helps eliminate, or at least manage, much of the variation,” Sevcik adds.

“If we start filling the bunker and get pushed out of fields by rain or delayed with equipment breakdowns, we cover the bunker and bag the rest. It's also a means to keep haylages separated so we can target the various qualities of feed to the appropriate group of cattle.

“Or we can take a bag of fourth cutting that's really nice and blend it in with a bag that's not as good, allowing us to better manage our inventories and eliminate a forced shift between significantly different forages.”

Bagging also speeds harvest, and hauling and blending can be done later in the year when convenient, Deetz says.

“We started doing this with a number of my clients a few years ago and it's caught on,” Sevcik says. “They may have a farm that's 10-15 miles away and it takes a lot of time running trucks back and forth, tying up a lot of manpower at a time when there is a lot of other field work needing to be done. So we'll just set up the bagger in the field, bag and let the bags sit there to be moved at a more convenient time.”

Moving haylage during colder months also reduces spoilage, Deetz believes. “We have found that haylage doesn't heat up when it's moved quite as much as cornsilage does,” he adds.

But Deetz and his neighbors have to regularly check bags for vermin damage. “We put fences on the front because it's tapered and we've actually had animals get on top of them and poke holes in them,” he says. The sides are too steep for wildlife to climb, but bird netting is placed on top of bags to discourage them. “The netting shakes in the wind and distracts birds from sitting on them.”

“It's extra work,” Deetz admits. “You have to hire an excavator, but we can usually move three bags in two days, so it's not a high cost. We think the benefits of having that consistent product outweigh the additional cost of handling the haylage a second time.”