Kenny Schmidt and Sean Hartung had 400 acres of alfalfa down, and rain was eminent. At just over 20% moisture, the crop wouldn't quite make dry hay. But they baled it anyway, and wrapped it with a neighbor's tube-line wrapper.
“It was kind of a crap shoot because we weren't sure what we would come up with,” says Schmidt, of Haven, KS. “But we really liked it when we took it out of the wrap. It was something we wanted to keep doing.”
That happened in 2004. Last year they made more low-moisture baleage, always aiming for 20-24% moisture. This year they bought a wrapper and plan to put up at least a third of their production that way. They claim the forage is softer than dry hay, and dairy clients say it's more palatable. One told them his herd's production jumped when he started feeding it.
It doesn't smell like silage, but “There must be some fermentation going on, because the hay changes color a little,” says Schmidt.
They use a dry, organic preservative that they feel helps make very-low-moisture silage work. Treated forage goes through a sweating process the same as dry hay, they say.
Schmidt and Hartung, his nephew, grow 1,700 acres of alfalfa, making big square bales for the horse and dairy markets. They made baleage at 50-60% moisture a few years ago, but prefer the low-moisture product. Reduced drying time is the biggest advantage over dry hay. Even though it's just slightly wetter, they can bale up to 1Ω days sooner.
“It seems like, when we go to check hay in the field, there are so many times that it's not 14 or 15% moisture, it's in the low 20s,” Schmidt says.
Low-moisture baleage also conserves shed space, and can be shipped long distances without a lot of extra weight. Schmidt and Hartung have sold it to dairy producers in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri.
They see beef feedlots as a potential market for their lower-quality baleage, replacing grinding hay. Ground high-moisture hay is less dusty, with some of the stems and leaves still attached.
“We ground some of it and left it sit in a pile for two weeks,” Schmidt reports. “It was a good-looking product, so we're hoping some of the feed yards will want it.”
He says the ground forage didn't change in color or temperature during the two weeks. Similarly, spoilage hasn't been a problem when they've shipped unwrapped bales to far-away clients.
“I think it would be a problem if the moisture level were considerably higher,” says Schmidt.
When wrapping at low moisture levels, he says to use plenty of plastic. They use 8-10 layers. Make the tubes where water drains away, and keep the ends sealed, he adds.