The 2013 hay season, with little sunshine and lots of rain, increases interest in making baleage, or silage in a bag, says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.
Baleage reduces hay harvest time from three or more days to one day. "You can usually find one clear day to harvest baleage, even in May, our wettest month," Kallenbach says.
He knows the system works. He made baleage this spring for dairy and beef herds at the MU Southwest Center, Mount Vernon. Many farmers who tried to dry hay have yet to make their first cutting.
"There were very few days of dry weather for making big bales between rains this spring," Kallenbach adds.
With baleage, forage to be ensiled goes into a plastic bag at high moisture, up to 65 percent. In comparison, hay should be dried to 16% moisture before rolled into big, round bales. Hay baled wet can burn.
Moisture is required
The big danger in making baleage will be letting hay become too dry before wrapping. Forage needs moisture to ensile. Baleage can be made down to 40% moisture, but drier hay carries more oxygen into the wrapping.
For baleage, cut the forage and roll it into big bales, Kallenbach says. That's similar to making dry hay. Then the bales are tightly wrapped in plastic to seal out oxygen. Inside the oxygen-free package, the forage ferments as in silage-making. Ensiling converts sugars into lactic acid, which preserves forage quality.
"Compare it to pickling," Kallenbach says. "Cattle love baleage. They eat everything, with little waste."
Skimping on plastic wrap and not getting a good stretch-wrap seal around the bale creates problems. The wrapped bales must be airtight. If oxygen enters, the forage turns to mold.