Rain or shine, Kendall Guither usually can harvest high-quality alfalfa.
The Walnut, IL, custom operator puts up midsized rectangular bales of hay when the weather's favorable. If Mother Nature does not cooperate, he makes 50-65% moisture bales and wraps them for bale silage.
"Bale wrapping is an excellent backup plan," says Guither. "It helps take the uneasiness out of haymaking decisions.
"With bale silage, you know you're going to maintain quality and get an extremely palatable feed."
Last November, Guither put up silage bales for a local dairyman that tested 23 1/2% crude protein with a relative feed value of 220.
This is Guither's second season of custom bale silage production. He previously made only dry midsized or small rectangular hay bales but, because of weather delays, couldn't get the consistent quality his dairy customers needed.
He also uses the wrapper on about 110 acres of his own hay ground and sells those bales.
"Because the bale wrapper helps me stay on schedule and maintain high quality, I'm planning to up my acres to 160 next year," he reports.
Depending on the weather, some customers make decisions about getting their bales wrapped after the crop is cut. Others prefer bale silage regardless of the weather, and some want just hay.
Immediately after silage bales are made, they're moved to a field edge and wrapped in eight layers of stretch-wrap plastic. Wrapping at a central location is more efficient than moving the wrapper from bale to bale in the field, and there's less risk of damage to wrapped bales.
"In the field, the stubble could puncture the plastic," notes Guither, who has one full-time employee and several part-timers during the summer.
If the bales are lined up properly, Guither or an experienced employee can wrap 50 bales an hour.
For baling, he charges $1 per foot of bale length. The wrapping charge is $2.50 per bale plus $3.90 for eight layers of plastic.
While the wrapper manufacturer recommends using six layers of plastic, Guither prefers to use eight to protect the feed during handling.
Walnut dairyman Brian Smith is sold on feeding the high-moisture feed to his dairy cows. After eliminating haylage from his herd's ration and adding bale silage and a mixer wagon for a total-mixed ration, he's seen his production go up and herd health problems go down.
So far this year, Smith has hired Guither to put up over 400 silage bales and about 200 dry bales. The weather dictated which fields were harvested wet vs. dry.
"With the bale silage, I know exactly what my inventory is," Smith points out. "I know how many pounds per day I'm using and how many bales are in the shed. With a silo or bag, I don't always know.
"It's convenient and cost-effective," he says. "And the best part is I can put up the good-quality hay I need for my dairy cows."