It takes experience and a bit of experimentation to bag corn silage or haylage properly, say three silage bagger company representatives.

“There is very much an art to bagging,” says Nick White of Versa Corporation. Landon Duban of Bag Man, LLC, which distributes Kelly Ryan baggers, and Taylor Weisensel of Ag-Bag/Miller St. Nazianz, agree. All three men regularly troubleshoot bagging concerns from custom harvesters and growers. They suggest several tips to get smooth, tightly packed bags.

One is to make sure the crop flows into the bagger at a consistent rate and doesn't overfeed the machine's capacity, says Weisensel. Crop fed slowly will be packed rather than grabbed and stuffed into bags, he adds.

But Duban says material should be consistently fed into baggers quickly. “In our experience, feeding it in the bagger faster will make it smoother, tighter and result in more tons in a bag.”

Feeding the bagger consistently is very important, White reiterates, and the speed at which the crop is fed into the bagger depends on the machine's size. But anytime the material becomes longer and/or drier, allow ample time for the machine to pack the bag completely and fully.

“A lot of people overfeed their baggers,” White continues. “We recommend to our customers that they need to be able to see the rotor in the hopper at all times. If you can't see it turning, then you have buried it, and you're not being as efficient as you could be.”

And don't overstretch a bag, Duban says. It takes more power and will shorten the bag so it stores less feed. It also will void the warranty and compromise the strength of the bag.

At bagging, the feed's moisture content should be in the 60-70% range, hopefully averaging 65%, they all agree. “You don't want too wet a feed,” Duban warns. “If it's over 70% and you're packing it fairly tight, you can squeeze the juice right out of the hay or corn and end up with liquid at the bottom.”

Silage over 70% moisture is also susceptible to clostridium, warns Weisensel, who be-lieves the optimum moisture content should be 60-65%. “Then you're going to get the best packing, plus the silage is going to go through its fermentation process at optimum rates.”

White says he does have some customers who bag in the 55-60% range successfully.

If you're storing dried shelled corn in bags, Weisensel advises, know that it can crack. “If you feed it to the cows, then it's no big deal because you're probably going to grind it again. But if you're using it for resale, you're going to have some cracked corn.”

Length of cut affects the pack of a bag, too. Longer forage is more difficult to pack, but forage cut too short decreases rumination.

There is always a tradeoff between what custom harvesters and dairymen want for length of cut, White says. Cut length can be the same if bagging or piling forage. But bagged grass or alfalfa can be cut longer to get higher effective fiber and still be packed well, he says.

At least once a year, check the condition of the caps on rotor teeth. Replacing worn caps saves horsepower and fuel and maintains bagging speed, Weisensel says.

“If they start getting really narrow,” Duban says, “they'll chop up the feed more than they will pack it. That lets more of the juice out and will lower your feed quality.”

White says the caps on newer Versa bagger packing teeth are made of hardened chrome and rarely need replacing.

A common bagging mistake: not thinking through where the bags will be filled and stored, Duban says. If affordable, the best place to bag is on blacktop or concrete pads.

“We recommend people keep away from wooded areas or, if the bags have to be along the driveway, mow the grass down so rodents don't have a place to be hiding out.” His company sells covers to protect bags from weather and wildlife.

If possible, put bags on hilltops or in areas where water will drain off and not collect nearby. Feed-out is cleaner when bags aren't sitting in mud, Duban reminds.

After the bags are filled, they need to be vented and, about four days later, sealed.

It's important to use bags that match a dairy herd's size. For the freshest feed, at least 6' should be fed out of the bag daily, White says.

If you're in the market to buy a bagger, compare the advantages and differences among machines. Some baggers have center-mounted rotors; others have low-mounted rotors.

Look at the ease of replacing various parts. Some bagger company parts are standard truck issue. Also consider the ease of maintaining and fixing feed tables, the locations of dealer networks and locality of manufacturing facilities.