Baleage requires the right management – Dr. Michelle Windle, Vita Plus

Posted on March 22, 2016 in Forage Foundations
By Dr. Michelle Windle, Vita Plus forage products and dairy technical service specialist
Dr. Tom Chamberlain is a veterinarian, nutritionist and member of the Silostop® technical team.  A silage expert, he consults with dairy farms, veterinarians, milk buyers and government bodies throughout England and Wales, and is the senior author of the standard textbook on dairy cow nutrition in the UK.  He recently shared his insight and interesting data on an increasingly popular feedstuff in the Midwest – baleage.

Chamberlain described the history of baleage, starting in the 1970s, in the UK and Australia.  Initially, bales were put into individual bags that were tied shut to exclude oxygen.   Today, production is highly mechanized.  Newer machinery can wrap with multiple plastic rolls at once, and can completely wrap bales in less than a minute per bale (some in less than 30 seconds).

Baleage production is increasing in popularity throughout the Midwest.  The benefits of baleage are numerous, especially when compared to making hay.  Baleage feeds better, has better quality, and animals produce more when consuming baylage versus hay.

However, one of the biggest challenges of producing and using baleage is spoilage, especially on the surface of the bale.  Considering that 50 percent of the bale mass is actually on the outer 5 inches of the bale (Chamberlain, 2016), surface spoilage has a massive effect on overall baleage quality.

Spoilage results from oxygen exposure, which stimulates both fungal growth and feed quality deterioration.  Oxygen exposure can occur quickly, such as during feedout or due to a hole being poked in the plastic.  It can also occur slowly over time when the silage plastic “bleeds” oxygen.

All plastic is slightly oxygen permeable.  Research has shown conclusively that decreasing plastic permeability to oxygen results in less spoilage, better feed quality, and improvements in production once silage is fed to animals.  In short, economic analyses indicate that the return on investment is favorable for oxygen barrier plastics.

Blocking oxygen
Typically, bales are wrapped with six to eight layers of stretchy, tacky, polyethylene-based (PE) bale wrap plastic (usually 1 mil thick).  Increasing the number of bale wrap layers means fewer stems poke through the plastic, and it reduces oxygen exposure and therefore spoilage.  Typical PE bale wrap is actually quite permeable to oxygen, especially once stretched.

Silostop bale wrap is a product that takes an old concept – reduced oxygen permeability in silo plastic – and puts a new spin on it by wrapping it around a bale.

When stretched, Silostop bale wrap is less permeable to oxygen than PE plastic (oxygen transmission rate (OTR) of 286 versus an average of 10,445 cubic centimeters per square meter per day) and is thicker (0.91 versus 0.75 mils).

This means that fewer wraps can be used to achieve the same, or better, level of feed quality.  This results in savings of time, labor and money.  Research indicates that benefits of using Silostop bale wrap versus traditional bale wrap include a faster initial fermentation, less aerobic spoilage during storage, reduced dry matter (DM) losses per bale during storage (4.6 percent DM losses versus 7.7 percent DM losses), and better-smelling bales at feedout.

Chamberlain emphasized the importance of proper management, such as gentle bale handling, proper bale stacking, and cleaning the rolls on the machine.  He also recommended checking that bale wrappers are working correctly.  Talk to your Vita Plus consultant or dealer for more insight on baleage and Silostop bale wrap.

Category: Forage Foundations
Forage storage and management