An in-line bale wrapper applies layers of plastic to a high moisture content hay bale. The wrap will expel oxygen from the bale and allow it to begin to ferment. Photo by Dennis Hancock, University of Georgia Extension. This high moisture, fermented forage product has been catching attention in parts of the country where baling a dry hay crop can be close to impossible.
“Sometimes it’s challenging to string 3 to 4 days together without getting rain damage to the hay during curing,” says University of Georgia Extension specialist and associate professor Dr. Dennis W. Hancock. “But if we get an afternoon or two together, we can make baleage and conserve the forage quality.”
When it comes to making baleage, timing and procedure are everything.
“Poor management can cause baleage to be a disaster,” Hancock says. “But under good management, there is a potential savings from a lot less forage loss compared to hay.”
The process starts out by baling forage that is at 50 to 65 percent moisture content. According to Hancock, 60 percent moisture is the ideal target. Because bales need to be wrapped within four hours of being baled at the high moisture content, Hancock says producers need to be sure only to cut as much forage as they can get baled and wrapped the next day. Bales can be wrapped individually or in rows.
“The wrap has to be thick enough to exclude oxygen so the fermentation process can take place. That means we need at least four layers of plastic,” Hancock says. “In our Southeast region, I would recommend six to eight layers because of the intensity of our sunlight and weather conditions, just to provide a little extra insurance against spoilage.”
Hancock recommends using net wrap when baling baleage forage to help them hold up against deformation.
“A baleage bale is going to be roughly twice the weight of a normal hay bale of that same size because of the extra moisture,” he says. “They tend to squat and deform, and that can stretch the plastic.”
This also makes it essential bale uniformity is kept in mind.
“With the in-line bale wrappers, the bales are sliding up against one another and have to be uniform in order to fit well with each other,” he says. “If they don’t fit well, the plastic will be overly stretched and it could cause a hole to develop or oxygen to get into the bales and cause mold.”
To ensure quality, baleage bales need to be fed within nine months of harvest.