Give your baleage game a boost

By Amber Friedrichsen, Associate Editor

Few things are more discouraging than an unexpected rain that ruins an almost-dry cutting of hay. It is a pill that never gets easier to swallow, even in parts of the country that receive greater amounts of annual rainfall.

No matter how well farmers gauge the forecast and plan cutting and baling around the weather, forage harvest is not guaranteed to go off without a hitch. Being prepared for the best- and worst-case scenarios is always necessary since Mother Nature can be a hay producer’s biggest fan or worst nightmare.

The former situation took shape one afternoon earlier this month at Mississippi State Extension’s Forage and Grazing Management Workshop in Raymond, Miss. The warm temperatures, full sun, and strong winds would have been ideal conditions for drying the annual ryegrass that would soon be cut at the Brown Loam Branch Experiment Station.

Despite the beautiful day, Brett Rushing noted how quickly rainstorms can pop up and wreak havoc on a good crop of hay in his part of the Magnolia State during a tour of the facility. With that said, the extension and research professor explained how making baleage can mitigate weather concerns and preserve ryegrass quality in Mississippi, as well as the rest of the Southeast.

Production pointers

In addition to cutting forage at boot stage and baling and wrapping it at 40% to 60% moisture, Mississippi State Extension offers the following tips to improve the chances of a successful baleage harvest with annual ryegrass and other small grains.

• Do not cut more forage than you can bale and wrap in a day. The maximum time bales can sit before wrapping is approximately 12 hours, and the sooner they can be wrapped after baling, the better.

• Consider making smaller bales for easier handling and transport since baleage will contain more water than dry hay, and thus weigh more.

• Use bale film that is at least 75% pre-stretch and has high ultraviolet protection. Apply at least six layers of plastic to individually wrapped bales. When in-line wrapping, use at least eight layers.

• Do not stack individually wrapped bales more than two high.

• Check that plastic is being stretched and sealed tight during the wrapping process to eliminate hay respiration and heating during storage. Then, inspect individual bales or in-line tubes for punctures and holes once wrapping is complete. Patch any tears as soon as possible to prevent oxygen from penetrating.

• Remember that making baleage does not improve the nutritive value of forage — it simply preserves it. Consider overall stand management and harvest practices to meet forage quality targets.

It will take approximately 35 days for baleage pH to drop low enough for the fermentation process to be complete. After this point, bales can be opened and fed out to cattle. However, as long as plastic remains intact, stored forage that was baled between 40% to 60% moisture will retain its feed value for up to one year.