Bales & Baleage – Dr. Thomas Chamberlain, DVM
Click here to download Chamberlain’s PowerPoint Presentation.
Baleage may not get a lot of attention here in the United States, but it accounts for 10 to 25 percent of all silage in western Europe, according to Dr. Thomas Chamberlain. During his presentation at the Vita Plus Custom Harvester Meeting, Chamberlain, a private forage and dairy health consultant, explained the advantages of baleage for British producers and how some of those advantages may also apply to U.S. producers.
First, consider the U.K.’s wet weather. With very frequent rainfall, baleage has an advantage because it requires a shorter drying period compared to baled hay. The U.K. has more grazing operations, which means a smaller number of animals are fed at certain points in the year. Bales are easier to store and transport throughout the year compared to silage stored in a silo. Baleage also requires a relatively low capital investment in terms of labor, harvesting equipment and storage facilities.
However, baleage comes with its own harvesting and storing requirements to ensure it becomes a quality forage for livestock. Chamberlain recommended a dry matter (DM) content of 45 to 55 percent. If it is too wet, the bales will not hold their shape and the plastic wrap can split open. Similar to haylage, wet baleage runs the risk of a clostridial or butyric fermentation. On the flip side, baleage that is too dry will not achieve a good fermentation.
Regardless if it’s in a silo or bale, Chamberlain said all silage making is an anaerobic process, which means achieving good density is a must. He said bales should be “as dense as possible,” aiming for a fed weight density greater than 25 pounds per cubic foot. Reduced porosity and oxygen exposure allows for a faster fermentation and drop in forage pH. This leads to lower DM losses due to spoilage over time. The challenge is one bale can weigh more than 2,000 pounds at that density, which could make moving the bales a challenge.
Properly wrapping baleage is essential to producing this forage because it has such a high surface area, Chamberlain explained. Consider a bale 4 feet in diameter. One-fourth of the total volume is contained in the outer 2 inches of that bale and half of the silage is in the outer 5 inches. A quality plastic with a low oxygen transmission rate (OTR) reduces oxygen exposure and allows for a faster fermentation.
Chamberlain said bales should be wrapped as quickly as possible. Research from the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center showed delayed wrapping increased bale temperature, lowered sugar content, increased pH and reduced fermentation.
The number of plastic layers required is a bit of a moving target. Chamberlain said six to eight layers is a good starting point. More layers may be needed for “stemmy crops,” if bales are moved and handled frequently, or on farms where birds and other critters are of great concern. Like silage bags, bale plastic should be checked for punctures and holes should be repaired quickly.
Finally, consider how you will store the bales. Rows of inline bales provide easy access, but stacks of bales offer more protection. Chamberlain said stacking bales on their ends versus their sides reduces the number of ends that open if bales slump.
Feed quality and nutrition
Forage storage and management