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Livestock producers wanting well-fermented baleage should follow best management practices

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

April 30, 2015

2 Min Read

Many livestock producers want to put winter out of their minds. However, preparing feed sources for winter months starts this summer during hay-making season.

Related: Baleage is Practical Method for Storing Forages

Livestock farmers and beef producers are turning to baleage as an alternative to dry hay during wintertime feeding, according to Gene Schmitz, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist.

Baleage, also known as haylage or round bale silage, is produced by baling forage at relatively high moisture levels and wrapping the bales with plastic.

The practice excludes oxygen, resulting in fermented forage that can be excellent quality feed, Schmitz says. However, he warns it can also turn into a "deadly, worthless mess." He points out that best management practices for baleage make the difference.

Referencing an article from the Journal of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents last year, Schimtz offers the following tips for making baleage for livestock using some Best Management Practices:

1. Quality. Make haylage from high quality/early growth forage (late boot to early head) since it has higher sugar content that is needed to produce good haylage fermentation.

2. Don't condition. Mow forage without conditioning once the dew has dried so that the moisture in the haylage is within the plant and not on the surface.

3. Wide swaths. Mow forage into a wide swath for rapid and uniform wilting to 50-60% moisture for best fermentation, which takes about 4 to 6 hours.

4. No tedding. The forage should not be tedded since tedding leaves the stems oriented at random while parallel stems will allow baling denser bales.

5. Bale it tight. Rake the forage into a windrow and bale in a tight, dense bale to reduce air (oxygen) inside the bale.  Pre-cutters in the baler increase bale density and improve fermentation. Bale to a uniform bale diameter needed to exclude air where bales come together when using in-line tube wrappers. Also, bale size and weight need to be compatible with tractor and loader capacity.

6. Wrap it up. Wrap bales in plastic within 2 hours to exclude air using at least 6 mils of plastic and 50% overlap and 50% to 55% stretch. Wrap in dry weather for plastic to stick.

7. Stack and store. Store bales in an area that is relatively level with no sharp stones. Stack bales to reduce sunlight exposure to save plastic and reduce sweating, north-south orientation of bales evens out sunlight on both sides of the bale.

8. Check back. Inspect bales weekly, repair tears and holes to prevent spoilage and secondary fermentation using tape made for plastic, not duct tape.

Want more tips? Check out recommendations from Iowa State University's Patrick Gunn and Joe Sellers in 6 ways to optimize livestock baleage quality.

This story first appeared June 10, 2014. It was updated April 29, 2015.

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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