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Consider baleage for 2020

Process can offer higher quality feed compared to dry hay

If you have any experience making hay, you’re aware of the challenges of doing so.

For dry hay producers, stringing together a few good days to bale is difficult, and those ensiling haylage are faced with high equipment costs and labor shortages.

Fortunately, baleage can be an alternative for both scenarios.

This month we’ll look at the advantages of baleage and next month we’ll dig into the baling and wrapping process.

Baleage is the wrapping high-moisture forage in plastic. Once wrapped, anaerobic microorganisms’ ferment some of the carbohydrates to lactic acid, which inhibits the growth of detrimental microbes. The process consumes some dry matter and digestible energy, but the loss is small compared to those resulting from making and storing dry hay.

For those who make dry hay, baleage offers a higher quality feed that can be produced in less time. Compared to dry hay, baleage typically has increased protein and total digestible nutrients. The wrapping process retains more leaves than dry hay and dry matter losses can be a third of dry hay, which equates to fewer bales per cow per year.

Wrapping hay also shortens field drying time. Baleage wrapped at 40% to 60% moisture can be done in a day compared to multiple days to reach 15% to 18% moisture suitable for dry hay. This equals more chances per month to harvest hay and the reduced risk of ruined hay from pop-up showers. In addition, summer annuals like Sudan grass or cover crops like triticale can be successfully harvested with baleage, where making dry hay is nearly impossible due to poor forage drydown and poor weather.

For someone chopping and ensiling haylage in a silo, bag or bunk, baleage saves labor and equipment, particularly on small farms. Two can easily process baleage, with one baling and one hauling and wrapping and, for very small acreages, one person can complete the task.

Machinery costs can be significantly reduced, as high-dollar equipment such as choppers, forage wagons, and high horsepower tractors can be eliminated. Savings occur in storage as well, as silos or bunks are not needed and waste and spoilage is typically less with baleage compared to bags or bunks.

For one farm, many factors resulted in the transition to baleage. First, the farmer had a difficult time retaining labor. Second, his aging self-propelled chopper was racking up repair costs comparable to that of hiring a custom harvester. Thus, he decided to harvest hay as baleage and hire a custom chopper for corn.

Not only did he simplify his hay harvest, but in hiring corn chopping he took a multi-week process to two days, while increasing quality through improved kernel processing. Wrapping hay and bagging silage also eliminated silo maintenance in addition to the costs saved in not owning a chopper and wagons. If this situation sounds like yours, you may want to weigh the factors to see if baleage works for you.

Zach Larson is the Penn State Extension Agronomy Educator in Blair County. He can be reached at 940-5989.

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