Importance of Forage Moisture for Hay and Haylage

Published 2:04 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

Levi Berg 
Agriculture and Natural Resources  
Clark County Extension Office

Hay season is almost here, and due to our rough winter, we could be having some troubles. The fields are not in the best shape due to heavy rains and damaged caused by livestock. Like many farmers, in Clark County, preserved forages is almost a way of life, and essentially to profits on most farmers, and without a high quality hay, many farms will be struggling this fall and winter.

With my job, I have received many questions about how to make a high quality preserved foraged, and the first steps to a high quality stored forage, is to determine the moisture content and cut that forage at the right time period. Forages especially grasses should be cut and baled before seed head productions at the preboot stage. This is the time where grass mass production and quality are both high. However, the quality of grasses and legumes greatly decreases as the plant furthers to mature, and becomes higher in non-digestible fibers.

When you do decide to cut, you must determine the moisture content before baling. Here is where you have options of haylages or dried-cure hays. High moisture hays, such as haylage, is great when you don’t have the time to allow the forage to cure. These high moisture hays must be cut around and baled when the optimal moisture levels is between 40-60% then wrapped to ferment. When moisture levels are too high, you have a risk of spoilage and colstridia fermentation, which is deadly to cattle. If the haylage is baled at a too low of moisture, the bales will not ferment correctly, and can be very harmful to ruminants. However, if a bale is baled and wrapped at the right moisture, you have an
extremely high quality feed for your animals after the bale ferments after a minimum of 30 days.

As for dried hays, you still have to focus on moisture content also. Bales should be made when forage moisture is 22% or below. If the hay has too much moisture, you risk the potential of the bales heating and combusting. This has happened and stories still float around the county of hay barns being burned to the ground. This happens because the high moisture in the middle of the bale creates heat, and as the bale heats from the inside out, the heat reaches the air outside and combusts. To prevent combustion, do not bale hays above 22% and even better is the hay is around 18% moisture.

If you are worried about forage moisture, please contact the Clark County Extension Office at 859-744-4682. Information for this article was obtained from the University of Minnesota Extension article “Wrapping Hay” and Michigan State University Extension publication “Harvesting and Handling High Quality Baleage”.