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Can Baleage Benefit
Your Forage System?
Increase harvest- and feeding flexibility with a modest
By Dave Forgey, Logansport, Ind.,
The development of several new, resilient plastic films in the past
few years has brought many new methods for the storage of forage crops. No
longer is plastic just a cover, now it can be air and vapor sealed, increasing
the potential role for baleage as a part of your feeding program.
Advantages of Baleage
- Good for digestion. Harvesting silage as a long-stem product has
been proven to be beneficial to ruminant livestock. Long-fiber forages cause
more chewing action which produces more saliva. The increased salivation
increases bacterial action in the rumen for better digestion.
- Easy to feed. Baleage can be simply fed in rings or bales can be
unrolled in feed areas in lots or fields. In all instances less machinery is
involved than would be required for other forms of stored silage.
- Harvest flexibility. Baleage harvest is handled in the same manner
as it would be for dry hay. A decision can be made for dry hay or baleage based
on the weather at the time the hay is in the windrow. Care does need to be
taken once forage dries below 30 percent moisture. At that point there is not
sufficient moisture to properly ferment the baleage after it is stored. This
can cause loss in storage due to inadequate fermentation. There is usually less
loss of dry matter when forage is stored at a higher moisture content because
the feed is not as easily lost due to shattering of leaves.
- Stretch equipment investment. Another important benefit is the
need for only one type of harvesting equipment. In most conditions a round
baler which is used for dry hay can also be used for baleage. In fact many
wrapping machines are adaptable to wrapping large square bales which are
becoming more popular.
In many operations it can allow for silage
harvest without the need to fill large structures in a short period to prevent
spoilage. This can reduce the amount of machinery needed as well as the amount
of labor needed in a short period of time. It can also minimize the delays
caused by weather conditions.
- Baleage does not adapt well to TMR (Total Mixed Ration) systems of feed
management. Chopping after fermentation can be difficult and expensive. Most
mixer wagons will not shred these large package systems. Due to varying weights
and moistures of individual bales it is difficult to adjust rations.
- Disposal of plastic from stored baleage can be time-consuming and costly.
Adequate recycling has not been developed at this time.
- Attention must be given to maintaining the package without air getting into
the stored feed. It is difficult to move bales after wrapping without damaging
the plastic covering.
- Sisal twine should not be used. The treatment to prevent twine breakdown
and rodent damage will deteriorate plastic in a short period of time.
- Bales are best used within one year of harvest as sunlight will deteriorate
the stored forage due to frequent temperature changes. Some bag and tube
systems use both black and white plastic, white to reflect sunlight and black to
resist ultraviolet rays. Stretch systems don't use both colors of film.
There are many different systems in use:
- Bags: The first systems in use were bags sized to place a bale
inside. These were expensive and cumbersome because they required sliding a bag
on each bale and then sealing the end. The advantages for a small operator
were no need for additional equipment. Small amounts could be processed and
fed at a time. A disadvantage can be sizing bales to fit bags. If holes are
punched in the plastic then air can move freely around the bale and spoilage can
- Hay Wrap (spear type): One of the least expensive systems is called
a Hay Wrap machine. It involves spearing a bale with a long rod and spinning
the bale hydraulically while plastic film is stretched on the outer
circumference of the bale. Bales are then stored tightly end to end. The
advantages are low equipment costs and a low investment in plastic per bale.
Some disadvantages can be air getting into the end of bales if they are not
packed tightly together. Other disadvantages are problems spearing bales in or
near the center so they rotate properly and getting wet bales off the spear
- Bale Wrapper (table type): Next are the individual bale wrappers
which completely wrap a bale on all sides. Some machines pick the bale up from
the ground, place them on a table where they spin and roll to allow them to be
completely wrapped with plastic stretch film. The advantages are moderate
investment in equipment and plastic and an excellent air-tight seal. Bales are
sealed individually so if damage occurs to the plastic seal, only the individual
bale is lost. One disadvantage is that bales should not be handled after
wrapping until they are ready to be fed to avoid damaging the plastic seal.
- Tubeolators (bags rows of bales): A recent development has been
called a "tubeolator." Bales are set end to end in a long row. A
machine holding a long, folded bag is driven down the row, lifting the bales up
and sliding them into the tube as it unfolds off the back of the machine, then
returning them to the ground in a neat row. Similar machines allow a bale to be
front loaded into a chamber and the machine hydraulically forces the bale into
the tube and advances for the next bale. The advantages are low- to moderate
equipment cost and the high speed in which they are processed. Some
disadvantages can be sizing bales properly for the bag and the expense and
availability of bags. If a bag gets a hole the air can move around all bales in
- Sausage Wrapper (wraps rows of bales): One of the most recent
developments has been a machine which allows bales to be stored in long rows but
which uses stretch wrapping much like the individual bale wrappers. This
machine allows bales to be placed on a platform and then the plastic is wrapped
around the exterior of the bale, sliding the wrapped bales down a ramp in the
rear in sausage fashion. The advantages are low cost of plastic per bale and
rapid processing. A wide range of bale sizes can be processed, although
uniformity is beneficial in wrapping. If a hole forms in the plastic it will
only damage the bale near the hole as the plastic is stretched tightly around
the bales. The disadvantages are the somewhat higher cost of equipment, and the
fact that the ends of the sausage tube are open, so spoilage can occur.
I have done a cost comparison of the different types of baleage
storage systems. The source of my information is farmers who use each
particular type of system. I am assuming that a farm would have a rear bale
fork or front loader with spear for handling bales. I have not included time
necessary to transport bales to the wrapping site.
||$7,000 to $14,000
||$5,000 to $8,000
||$12,000 to $14,000|
|Plastic Cost ($/bale)
||$3.50 to $4.00
||$1.00 to $1.25|
Each system should be judged
on it's cost based on the volume of forage to be harvested. Due to the relative
mobility of the wrapper machinery, they can be owned by several farmers or used
as rental equipment in local areas.
As a dairy farmer, I have used
baleage as a major feed source for the last four years. It has proven to be a
very good source of high-quality feed for our dairy herd. We have used baleage
as the only feed supply for several months with yearling heifers and dry cows.
Our only real concern has been harvesting at the right moisture to
promote proper fermentation. If moisture content is above 60 percent, excess
moisture in the bale after wrapping can cause leakage, leading to spoilage due
to an improper seal. Harvesting at moisture contents below 30% can cause lack
of moisture for adequate fermentation.
In both cases molds can
develop in the bales and cause a health risk to animals who eat the feed. In
most cases this is very evident when the bale is opened. If heating or mold is
found the bale should be discarded.
Many companies suggest the use of
preservatives when processing baleage. I have not found that they improve the
fermentation process if feed is not harvested properly. If it is harvested
properly, then preservatives are not needed.
our animals are always fed in pastures in the winter, we have used a bale
unroller to feed many of our bales. This system allows us to unroll a bale in a
windrow and then place an electrified polywire down the center of the windrow.
The cows eat under the wire without stepping on the feed. (See
Winterfeeding Under a Breakwire.)
feeding, the windrow is placed on clean ground about six feet ahead of the
previous feeding. The wire is advanced to the new windrow, and the cows are
eating in a clean area. We like this system because of the way the nutrients
are spread across the entire field and not just around bale rings.
Making baleage has gained us many days of harvest when weather
conditions didn't allow hay to drydown. It also allows for more hours of
harvest time in a day. With proper planning baleage can be harvested in the
morning hours, and then dry hay later when conditions permit.
found the baleage can add many advantages to our forage system.
©1997 Committee for
Sustainable Farm Publishing
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