The ability to harvest moist forage as hay gives Kentucky producers many advantages, including timely harvest, higher forage quality, and less weathering loss over hay systems. The baleage system allows producers to utilize commonly available forage equipment (mowers, rakes, balers) rather than requiring choppers and silo structures or bags. A two year survey of haylage in Kentucky revealed some important considerations for making high quality haylage. To make high quality baleage, producers should:
- Cut at the proper stage of maturity. The fermentation process is driven by the soluble carbohydrates present at cutting. Early cut forage has higher carbohydrates. All forages, cut at boot to early head (for grasses) and bud to early bloom for legumes will ensile.
- Bale when the wilted forage is between 40 and 65% moisture content (MC). In this study, only excessively wet (75-80% moisture, basically unwilted) forage had an ‘off’ fermentation profile with excessive butyric acid.
- Bales should be as tight as possible to help exclude oxygen and accelerate the ensiling process.
- Wrap bales within 24 hours, and ideally the same day. Delaying to the next day allows heating to begin in bales.
- Move bales to the wrapping/storage site.
- Wrap bales with six to eight layers of UV-stabilized, stretch wrap plastic. Early literature indicated that as few as four layers could work. However, top producers have not been happy with fewer than six layers, and UK research has shown clear feeding preferences for bales with six or more layers of coverage.
- Periodically check the wrapped bales and tape any holes present in the bales with UV-stabilized tape (not duct tape).
The ensiling process is complete within four weeks, but bales may be fed at any time after wrapping. Bales that have not had time for complete fermentation should be fed so that they are eaten quickly (within 48 hours). ~Jimmy Henning, excerpted from Proceedings of the 2019 KY Alfalfa and Stored Forage Conference, available here.