SEDALIA, Mo. — Baling and wrapping high moisture forage has become a popular way to conserve spring forage crops. The advantages include less drying time needed before baling, harvesting at a more proper stage of maturity to ensure high nutrient value, and less storage losses. There are several key components of the baleage making process that help ensure a high quality product is produced, and I’d like to discuss three particular items related to baleage production.
The first item is the amount of ash in the forage. Ash is basically mineral content, and high ash levels can come from soil being incorporated into the bale as the forage is raked into windrows. Soil contamination can lead to clostridial bacteria contamination, which may result in poorly fermented forage, especially if the forage is above target moisture levels. Producers should pay attention to rake settings and avoid soil contamination, especially with winter annual cover crops such as rye, wheat, or triticale.
The second big issue is forage moisture content. The target is 45 to 60 percent moisture at baling. Haylage wrapped too wet is a candidate for clostridial fermentation and the associated toxicities that come along with that issue, especially if the forage is heavily contaminated with soil. Butyric acid is a potential problem with very wet haylage and results in lowered feed intake and potential toxicity issues. Too dry, and the forage does not ferment and has a greater potential for molding if exposed to oxygen.
Getting the forage moisture right is a huge challenge when producing baleage. Of the baleage samples I’ve received in my office the last couple of years, only 17% of samples were in the ideal moisture range while 67% were above the optimal moisture level of 60%. Moisture can be estimated by microwave drying, or using moisture testing equipment. Both take some time, but knowing forage moisture content when baling is critical to the success of having a high quality, well fermented product.
The final point is to exclude oxygen. Be sure to make tight bales. Bales should be wrapped with 6 to 8 mil of plastic. This helps ensure oxygen exclusion and leads to proper fermentation and forage preservation. Bales should be wrapped within 12 hours of baling.
Harvesting at the right stage of forage maturity, baling at the correct moisture, and excluding oxygen with tight bales and adequate plastic wrapping are keys to successful baleage production. Before feeding, have the forage analyzed for nutrients and fermentation characteristics. This can help avoid feeding issues and provide producers with information to help them conserve high quality feed.
If you have questions on haylage production, sampling, or feeding, please contact me by e-mail at email@example.com or by my cell phone number at (660) 723-3621. Have a great week.
— University of Missouri Extension
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