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.
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.