Baleage Has Its Benefits

Experts offer advice on best practices for round bale silage, also known as baleage.

By Tharran E. Gaines | Photos By Hans Verburg

Dry versus wet bales? Which is right for you? For many producers, the answer is a matter of what fits best into their respective operations, as each approach comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

When round bale silage (aka baleage) is the forage of choice, growers have a number of factors to consider. By following a few best practices when baling, however, they can ensure that quality feed reaches the bunk.

Drying Times, Tonnage And Palatability

Compared to dry hay, baleage gives producers more opportunities to harvest forage at the optimum stage of maturity, thanks to shorter drying times. In general, this means cutting legumes at 10% bloom and grasses at the boot stage or just as the seed head emerges, regardless of the bale shape.

“Baleage typically reduces curing time from three or more days down to one day, so you’re better able to catch that peak time,” explains Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist. “Often, producers can find one clear day to harvest baleage, even in the wettest months,” he adds, noting how the ability to bale at a higher moisture level reduces field drying time.

Also, on average, baleage delivers more feed than traditional dry hay bales, since baling wet forage reduces leaf loss. Plus, there’s less feeding loss due to better palatability compared to dry hay. Then, compared to either upright or bunk-type silos, large round bale silage can provide more precise allocation of forages, based on quality, to different classes of animals.

Wrapping And Storage

If there is a downside to baleage, it can be found in the complexities of wrapping. Yet, a properly made bale provides a terrific start.

“Making bale silage is an anaerobic process,” explains Jimmy Henning, University of Kentucky Extension professor. “In order for the forage to ensile [or be preserved], the bale needs to be as dense as possible and wrapped quickly—typically within 24 hours—with at least four layers of plastic, and preferably six.”

Total accumulated plastic thickness, however, not the number of wraps, appears to be the most important factor in resisting tears and preventing oxygen from reaching the forage. The plastic film also must have a 50% stretch factor, be resistant to ultraviolet light and be overlapped approximately 50% during the wrapping process.

Henning says it’s equally important to bale when moisture content is between 45 and 65%. In contrast, fresh forage is around 80% moisture when it is cut, and can be higher in the spring. So, it still needs some time to wilt to the proper moisture level for bale silage.

Lastly, another advantage to making baleage is that much of the equipment used to do so can also be used for making dry hay, including cutting and baling tools. That way, producers can choose the forage that best fits their operation.

The Right Equipment For The Job

One of the keys to producing high-quality round bales is rolling them tight enough to limit the amount of oxygen in the bale. The new Massey Ferguson® RB Series round balers do just that.

The new Massey Ferguson RB Series round balers.

The new Massey Ferguson RB Series round balers.

Designed to provide superior performance in both dry hay and silage crops, the RB Series is available in two models to meet individual needs. Both models share a common bale width of 35.5 inches, but the RB4160V rolls bales up to 63 inches in diameter, while the RB4180V builds bales up to 71 inches in diameter.

“The RB Series balers are designed to begin rotation of the core very early in the process,” says Matt LeCroy, AGCO® product marketing manager for hay and forage products. “This feature, combined with two hydraulic cylinders and two heavy-duty springs, makes for a tighter, more uniform bale, which is important since excess air in the bale will result in minimal fermentation and increased risk of mold.”

Another unique feature, he says, is the XtraCut feeding rotor, which incorporates 17 knives that can attain crop cuts down to 2.65 inches in length as the crop moves into the bale chamber. Unlike other machines, the XtraCut rotor permits group selection of 17, 9, 8 or zero knives from the terminal in the tractor. This allows the operator to immediately adjust cut length based on crop conditions and/or animal needs.

“Finally, the RB Series utilizes a unique HydroFlex floor that prevents blockages before they occur,” LeCroy adds. “The ‘Flex’ portion allows automatic movement of the front portion of the feed chamber floor to prevent peak loads from stopping flow and operation of the baler. Should a blockage occur, though, the operator can hydraulically activate the system from the cab, which lowers the rear of the feed table floor, allowing the material to pass.”

Morgan Lott, a livestock and grass seed producer from Lake Placid, Florida, field-tested one of the first RB Series balers last season, noting that it “ate hay” better than anything he had used to date. “We used it on dry hay, as well as seed grass that we baled right behind the mower conditioner for seeding new fields as sprigs,” he says. 

The only time we even started to plug the baler was if it pulled in part of another windrow from the side during a turn,” Lott continues. “Even then, you could just drop the pickup floor from the cab.

“It does an awesome job, no matter what you’re baling,” he concludes.

Resources For More Information On Baleage

Baled Silage Production Source: Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives

Baling Forage Crops for Silage Source: University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture

Making Quality Silage Bales Source: University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Extension

Large Round Bale Silage Source: Penn State Extension