Forage moisture content, bale density and the amount of time between baling and wrapping are key factors affecting the success of baleage production, says Rory Lewandowski, Athens County, OH, Extension educator.
The first one is the most important, says Lewandowski. He quotes from Haylage and Other Fermented Forages , a North Dakota State University Extension publication: “The forage is cut as if for making hay, but is baled at 50-60% moisture rather than at 18-20% moisture. Baling at the proper moisture content is the single-most-important variable. Baling haylage with too much moisture reduces the feed quality of the forage and reduces the amount of dry matter stored per bag, greatly increasing storage cost. Baling haylage with inadequate moisture reduces fermentation and increases mold production, greatly increasing storage losses.”
Tight, dense bales exclude air and help the fermentation process, producing a better end product with less mold and spoilage, says Lewandowski.
The time lag between baling and wrapping should be as short as possible because high-moisture forage continues to respire at high rates after it is in a bale, he says. Respiration reduces forage quality because digestible carbohydrates are consumed. In addition, high-moisture forage is subject to colonization by undesirable microorganisms. Wrapping a bale or placing it in a plastic bag, when done correctly, will exclude oxygen and lead to an anaerobic environment. Respiration losses are reduced and anaerobic microorganisms ferment carbohydrates into lactic acid that inhibits the growth of detrimental microorganisms. According to a University of Kentucky Extension publication, Baling Forage Crops for Silage, the amount of time between baling and wrapping/bagging should be less than eight hours.
Finally, consider plastic thickness, he advises. University of Wisconsin researchers looked at the thickness of plastic necessary to preserve either wet hay or to make haylage. They used 1-ml and 1.5-ml plastic, wrapping different bales with from two to 10 layers. Their conclusion was that “In all cases 6 to 8 mls of plastic were needed to produce good-quality haylage in the bales.”
Disadvantages of baleage include some additional costs associated with wrapping or bagging high-moisture bales as well as some storage and handling logistics that are different from dry hay. “On the other hand, advantages include timelier harvesting of forage, less harvest and storage losses, and the production of a potentially higher-quality forage feedstuff,” says Lewandowski.