When May hay won’t dry, wrap it up to make baleage

COLUMBIA, Mo. – “I’m seeing more baleage being made than ever before,” says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.

May is the best month for making high-quality forage. Also, May is the wettest month of the year in most parts of Missouri.
“Making dry hay gets difficult,” Kallenbach says.

The answer is wrapping a high-moisture bale of hay in plastic. High-moisture hay with the oxygen excluded becomes silage.
Baled-hay silage becomes baleage.

Except for the first few days, May has challenged haymakers this year, Kallenbach says. There were frequent rains and temperatures fell below normal, slowing hay drying.

“We made some good baleage at the MU Southwest Center (Mount Vernon),” he says. “We cut hay on Sunday afternoon as soon as rains cleared the area. By Monday afternoon the hay was at 50 percent moisture. We baled and wrapped it to make some high-quality forage.”

Hay can dry to that 50 percent level in a day. But it takes three or more days to get it down to 16 percent for making dry baled hay.

“Moisture on the leaf surface and in soft tissue dries quickly,” Kallenbach says. “Thick stems dry lots slower.”

High-moisture hay wrapped in plastic will ferment and make silage.

“Cattle like baleage,” he says. “Ensiling does not improve feed quality but improves palatability. Also, there is less feed wastage with baleage.”

Kallenbach urges caution when making baleage. “Moisture in hay weighs a lot. Make your bales smaller so you can lift and move them.”

Also, the wrap must be tight and without puncture holes. A quarter-size hole causes a rotten spot the size of a basketball.

“Kids, and other wildlife, can poke lots of holes in plastic-wrapped baleage,” he adds.

Some balers wrap individual bales. Other machines wrap a long, continuous row of bales at the edge of the field.

“Those big, long, white caterpillars in rows are wrapped high-moisture bales. The secret to success is multiple layers of plastic wrap to exclude air,” Kallenbach says.

The plastic wrap is 1 mil, or one-thousandth of an inch thick. The bale wrapper overlaps the plastic by 50 percent on four wraps. That gives a 4-mil thickness.

If the baleage is to be stored over a year, give a 6-mil wrap, Kallenbach says. If it is to be sold and moved, give an 8-mil wrap.

The safest use of baleage is on the farm where it is made in the season it is made, Kallenbach says.

“If a plastic wrapper is punctured, use a special tape that seals the hole. It looks like duct tape, but seals better,” he says.

“When I see more baleage being made, I assume people are listening and heeding my advice,” Kallenbach says.

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