Wrap it up: Producing high-quality baleage – Dr. Michelle Windle, Vita Plus

Posted on January 27, 2016 in Forage Foundations
By Dr. Michelle Windle, Vita Plus forage products and dairy technical service specialist
With lower milk prices, producers are all the more focused on getting as much value as possible from the resources they have.  One way to do this is by producing high-quality baleage.

Recent research from Dr. Dan Undersander at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that 71 percent of the variation in alfalfa quality is due to leaf content.   The importance of minimizing leaf loss cannot be overstated.

Baleage is the term applied to wrapped, high-moisture (ideally 45- to 55-percent dry matter (DM)) hay. It offers numerous benefits, including increased leaf retention and feed value, decreased risk of rain damage in the field, and increased palatability over dry hay.  Other benefits include the freedom to move and stack feed, which would not be possible with larger-scale silos.

Key to protecting forage quality is preventing spoilage. The key to making good quality baleage lies in wrapping the bales.  A minimum of four layers of good quality plastic (usually 6 to 8 layers), stretched taut around the bale is required.  More layers – and better quality wrap – lead to a more anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, a better fermentation, and an overall more valuable final product.

Recently, the same oxygen barrier technology from Silostop® that keeps the surface of large-scale silos spoilage-free has been made available as bale wrap.  Both Silostop silo plastic and Silostop bale wrap contain an additive – ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) – that limits the oxygen permeability of the plastic, ultimately leading to reduced spoilage, reduced yeast and mold, improved DM recovery and forage quality, and healthier feed for livestock.

Compared to standard polyethylene (PE) bale wrap, Silostop bale wrap has a much lower oxygen transfer rate before it is stretched around a bale (20 cubic centimeters per square meter per day of oxygen versus 1,925) and after being stretched (286 cubic centimeters per square meter per day versus 10,445).

Importantly, after being stretched, Silostop bale wrap is 0.91 mils thick, whereas conventional PE bale wrap is average only 0.75 mils.  The advantage of thicker wrap is two-fold:

  • Sharp stems will be less able to poke holes through the wrap.
  • Thicker plastic (and lower OTR) means fewer wraps are needed.  As a result, less plastic is used, less time is spent wrapping, and, thus, money is saved.

The chart below provides an estimation of cost benefits per bale (shown in the last column on the right).  This chart outlines two ways of wrapping bales:  wrapping with only Silostop bale wrap is shown on the first and third rows of data, and wrapping with a combination of Silostop bale wrap and PE wrap is shown on the second, fourth, and fifth rows of data.

Although using a combination of Silostop bale wrap and PE wrap will result in product cost savings, this may not maximize potential DM recovery.  This chart also shows that, as more layers of Silostop bale wrap are used, labor cost savings and average DM gained both increase.  Though the upfront price of Silostop bale wrap is higher than standard PE bale wrap, ultimately, money is saved because of the quality of the wrap.  Note that the labor cost savings are based on average U.S. contractor savings.  Savings in labor are due to the use of fewer layers, resulting in faster wrapping of each bale and more bales wrapped per hour.

In summary, Silostop bale wrap offers producers improvements in forage quality and cost savings on labor and DM recovery.  If you are interested in purchasing Silostop bale wrap, please contact your Vita Plus or dealer consultant.

(Wilkinson and Fenlon, 2013)

Category: Forage Foundations
Forage storage and management