'It takes a little bit of the chaos out of haymaking," says Arie DeJong of Bonanza, OR.
That's one benefit he had in mind when he switched the forage program on his 900-cow dairy to all-bale silage last year.
Previously, he chopped haylage and stored it in piles, and also put up dry baled hay.
"We had two operations going in the summertime," explains DeJong. "It took quite a bit of help and a lot of overhead. Now we're putting up all our forages with one baler."
Baling silage is faster than chopping, too, so quality is more consistent. Eliminating hay baling also has reduced the risk of rain damage.
"We've got a handle on our quality without compromise," says DeJong. "It's nice to be able to take the rain out of our operation."
His baler is a Freeman Model 1592, which makes 3 x 4 x 8' rectangular bales weighing 2,300-2,500 lbs each, depending on moisture content. DeJong usually aims for 50% moisture, but moisture isn't as critical as it was with piled silage.
"You can go as low as 35% moisture. Sometimes it doesn't even ensile, but it doesn't spoil."
In 1998, he made bale silage from 850 acres of a smorgasbord of forage crops: alfalfa, wheat, peas and oats, and oats alone.
"Whatever we grow, we put it in there," says DeJong.
He's referring to the 150'-long Ag-Bag plastic bags in which the bales are sealed. He filled 150 bags last summer, roughly 60 big bales per bag. That's enough to meet the year-long forage needs of his cows and young stock - atotal of nearly 2,000 forage-consuming animals.
Each bag is marked with the crop, harvest date and the field it came from.
"We get the bales we need for the day out of the bags and retie them. So they stay pretty well- sealed," he says.
How does he feed the bales?
"That's the biggest question we had," he answers.
He uses a vertical mixer (Roto-Mix) that handles silage bales.
"We just throw the bales in whole, and it cuts them up nicely," he says. "That's what makes this system work. We're still able to feed a total-mixed ration."
Since he started feeding bale silage, herd health has been better than ever. And he's well-satisfied with his milkfat test, which averages 3.8-3.9%. His herd-average milk production is down due to a health problem that happened last spring - before bale silage feeding began.
"Not feeding any dry hay at all has not been a factor," he says.
His baled alfalfa silage has tested as high as 56% TDN. But "you get out what you put in," emphasizes DeJong.
"You're not going to make better hay by putting it in a bag," he states. "You're going to make better hay by cutting it on time and putting it up right. This is just a tool to help you do that."