Baleage Basics

Baleage is making silage in bales of wilted forage and wrapped in plastic. Conserving some of your forage this year as baleage can help stretch your hay supply and save on supplement costs.

Making baleage is a fairly simple process. It requires rakes and balers that can handle a heavy crop as well as access to a hay wrapper. A conditioning mower is less necessary with baleage than hay because stems are not completely dry with baleage.

Inline wrappers are the most common type of baleage implement. These machines are able to handle more tons per hour and use less plastic than the individual bale wrappers. To make baleage remember the following points: It is an anaerobic process. In order for the forage to ensile, the bale needs to be as dense as possible and wrapped with at least 4 layers of plastic and preferably 6. Use high quality plastic that is treated to resist degradation from UV radiation. Be sure to patch any holes in the plastic with the special tape that comes with the rolls of plastic. Use more plastic at the junctions between bales of different sizes because this region is stressed and prone to separate and let air in.

The process requires soluble carbohydrates. Cut forage at or before first flower (for legumes) or boot to early head (for grasses) so quality will be high. During ensiling, the soluble carbohydrates in the forage are converted to acetic, propionic and lactic acid, dropping the pH of the bale and making it stable in storage. These volatile fatty acids give silage its distinctive smell and the low pH prevents the formation of molds.

Bale when moisture content is between 45 and 65%. Moisture is crucial to good baleage. Fresh forage is around 80% moisture, and can be higher in the spring. Cut forage needs to wilt about a day before baling.

Wrap fast. Only cut down as much forage as can be baled and wrapped in one day. Even delaying 24 hours causes noticeable heating in the bales, lowering available carbohydrates for ensiling as well as the quality of the ensiled product.

baleageLow pH stabilizes baleage. Ideally, the bales should ensile for 30 days before feeding. Feeding sooner than 30 days after wrapping will not harm livestock but the bunk life of this forage will be reduced. For more information on making baleage, see ‘Baleage: Frequently Asked Questions’ at the UK Forage Website.

~ Jimmy Henning, Farmer’s Pride, May 2018