Stamm: Proper steps must be taken with baleage

For several years now, forage producers have had the option to harvest their hay as a baled silage known commonly as baleage. This harvesting process creates a high-quality, high-moisture livestock feed at times when traditional dry hay harvest may be difficult or even impossible because of typical Kentucky spring weather conditions.

Creating baleage may not be an option for every producer, but for those who are considering or planning to harvest wet hay this spring, it is always good to review the proper harvesting information needed in order to ensure that a high-quality feed is made or to see if this is an option for your operation.

Perhaps what makes baleage so attractive to producers is its short drying time before harvest. Baleage calls for a high moisture content of 50 to 60 percent, where as traditional hay needs to be dry and in the neighborhood of 15 to 18 percent moisture. Traditional hay needs several days to dry during its harvest period, which can be difficult with a wet forecast and possible pop-up showers.

Because of the higher moisture content of the feed, baleage requires a much shorter drying time, creating a tighter harvesting window and giving the producer a greater chance of avoiding rain events that could ruin traditional dry hay.

Baleage production calls for some extra forage equipment which could be a limiting factor.

For a successful harvest, you will need a baler capable of baling wet forage, a tractor large enough to handle the weight of the heavier, high-moisture bales and a wrapper to wrap the bales in plastic for proper fermentation and storage to occur.

Some baler manufacturers offer “silage kits” that can be added to older balers and make them suitable for high moisture hay harvest.

If you fail to bale and wrap baleage at the proper moisture content, proper ensiling will not occur and the harvest will be a failure. The improperly-cured feed could even be potentially hazardous to your livestock.

Creating bales that are too high in moisture will decrease forage quality, while baling too dry will reduce fermentation and increase mold production, both of which will create harvest losses.

Bales should be wrapped in plastic as soon as possible during harvest. Four layers of plastic should be used per bale. These plastic layers will reduce the chance the bale will be exposed to oxygen during storage. Oxygen exposure would forfeit the whole baleage ensiling process.

Before you harvest baleage for the first time, talk with someone who is experienced in the process. This can be an outstanding feed option for your operation, but proper steps must be taken.

If you have more questions about baleage production or forage production in general, call the Clark County Extension Office at 744-4682.

Clay Stamm is the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources.