He learned his baleage lessons the hard way

By Mike Rankin
Photo: B.J. Marks

Photo: B.J. Marks

B.J. Marks, along with his father, Brad, have been doing custom baleage for about five years in the central Georgia Piedmont region. During that time, there has been a lot of trial and error. There’s also been a lot of successes, especially lately.

Marks recently participated as one of the speakers in a series of baleage presentations at the American Forage and Grassland Council’s Annual Conference in Savannah, Ga. For those thinking about making baleage, the following “lessons learned” were offered by the Georgia custom haymaker.

1. Good yields are great, but it has to be quality feed. Marks noted that rolling up 10 bales of hay per acre is of little consequence if the feed has the nutrient equivalent of wheat straw.

2. Keep bales tight when using an in-line wrapper. “We run additional pressure on our wrapper to prevent any gaps and ensure there are no air pockets,” Marks said.

3. Identify a good storage location for the wrapped tube. “As I learned from experience the first year we wrapped hay, you can’t put a line of wrapped bales across the bottom of a hill,” Marks noted. “I can tell you that such a row of wrapped bales works very similar to the dam on the Savannah River. We had a whole row of bales wash into a fence line.”

4. Don’t underestimate the weight of the bales or overestimate what your equipment can handle. Marks explained that their baleage bales can weigh 1,400 to 1,800 pounds. An undersized tractor or loader can result in a sizeable repair bill. “We like to carry one bale on the rear three-point hitch to counterbalance the weight on the front.”

5. Don’t cut more hay than you can wrap in a day. “We learned this the hard way, too,” Marks said. “In the beginning, we sometimes found ourselves wrapping at 3 a.m. If you are just getting started with baleage, start small and then find an efficient system.

6. Make sure your baler can handle wet hay. Not all balers are equal in their ability to form a wet hay bale. It’s best to do your homework and talk to people before purchasing a baler or assuming the one you have for dry hay will perform with wetter forage.

7. Make sure your tractor has enough horsepower for the baler. “Whatever the baler manufacturer tells you is needed for horsepower, you’ll probably need more because the type of crop and conditions can vary,” Marks said. “Baling heavy, wet sorghum-sudangrass is going to require more horsepower than a typical hay crop.”

8. Don’t guess on moisture. Marks said it’s important to buy a moisture tester or use a microwave so that there are no surprises. In time, you will be able to calibrate your mind to estimate the moisture based on look and feel. The custom baler noted that they will begin at 60% moisture and stop at 40% moisture for baleage. Marks said they get their best response to baleage inoculants when the moisture is on the low end of that range.

9. If it’s junk hay before wrapping, it will be junk after the wrap is taken off. Forage quality and moisture aren’t going to improve just because the hay is wrapped.

10. Don’t be afraid to try something new or different. “Execute a plan, and you may not always follow the opinion of others, but also realize there are going to be some bumps in the road,” Marks concluded.