When it comes to crafting high quality baleage, producers tend to hone in on maturity and moisture content. While these are both key characteristics of superior forage, researchers suggest there is a third indicator to building exceptional bales: Bale density.
“The art of haymaking is capturing and keeping as much quality as you can,” said Jordan Milewski, a brand marketing manager for crop preparation at New Holland Agriculture. “There is no more quality in your forage than when it is standing in the field. Once it is cut, you begin to lose that quality.”
One way to keep as much quality in the bale as possible is to eliminate oxygen and ferment the forage. This can be done by producing baleage. Unlike dry hay, however, there are some additional steps to consider when crafting the perfect bale. Here are four key tips for successful baleage production according to research sponsored by CNH Industrial and conducted by Pennsylvania State University Forage Specialists:
Make the densest bale possible.
“The reality is, bale density, or the hardness of the bale, has a heck of a lot to do with your return on investment,” Milewski says. “When bale density goes up, the quality goes up. As quality goes up, not only does your cost of feed go down, but your consumables go down, your bale handling goes down and your waste goes down.”
By creating a denser bale, fewer bales will be produced on the same amount of forage. Because of this, less wrapping material and fuel will be needed, so cost of production will go down, according to Milewski.
“If you are looking for that one thing that is going to improve your bottom line when it comes to making baleage, simply making a harder, denser bale can go a long way because it touches so many areas of the farm operation whether you realize it initially or not,” Milewski says.
Bale at proper moisture content.
Proper moisture levels at bailing ensure that fermentation will occur after the bale is wrapped and oxygen is eliminated. Generally, the optimal moisture for baleage is between 45-60%.
Mow at correct stage of forage maturity.
As forages mature, quantity increases while the quality of the crop declines. Unfortunately, low quality forage cannot be corrected through the process of fermentation. Therefore, it is essential to harvest baleage at the correct stage of maturity. For producers looking to forge nutrient rich forage, harvesting early into the growth period is ideal. If yield is a larger concern, it may be best to harvest later into the growth stage to ramp up tonnage.
Wrap the bales as soon after bailing as possible.
To help keep the protein concentration at the optimal level, making sure the bale temperature does not rise above 120ºF is key. Wrapping as quickly as possible after bailing is a best management practice to ensure the internal temperature of the bale is kept low.
“That 120ºF threshold is absolutely critical,” Milewski says. “Once you’ve touched that line in the sand, you are starting to de-bind those proteins and fiber chains. That protein goes right through the animal and it is virtually wasted, which is very bad for your bottom line.”
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