By: Naomi Paley, BSA, PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist, Yorkton Regional Office
Trying to put up good quality, dry hay seems to be a losing battle for many producers. Volatile and unpredictable rain events combined with the thought of a haying season that starts in July and extends until September have led many to consider other options for putting up the winter feed supply. Bale silage is an option that requires less capital investment, labour and fuel as compared to a chopped silage system. Most crops that can be baled as hay are also reasonably easy to ensile such as grasses, cereals or grass/legume mixtures.
Although baled silage systems can have a higher potential for spoilage compared to other silage systems, following a few of the following guidelines for harvest, handling and timing can ensure a quality preserved forage.
- Ideal time to cut cereal crops for silage is at the mid to firm dough stage to maximize quality and yield.
- Bale silage should be harvested at moisture contents between 40-55%. Higher moisture contents ensure better fermentation, but will reduce the amount of dry matter/bale.
- The crop may have to be wilted (allowed to sit in the swath) for a short period of time to get the moisture content down to the 40-55% level. Use a bale probe to test moisture levels.
- Harvesting and wrapping/bagging need to be done quickly to minimize spoilage. It is preferable to get the bales wrapped within 5 hours but not longer than 10 hours after they are made.
- High bale density (well packed bales) is required for good fermentation. Eliminating oxygen is important in order to get a good fermentation.
- Baling when air temperatures are cool, such as in early morning will slow the start of harmful heating.
- Holes or tears in plastic will result in spoilage, so patching them up with a good quality tape will be worth the effort.
- It is important to note that high moisture bales can be heavy. Set your bale size to produce a similar weight bale as your dry bales. Weight of a 55% moisture bale will be about 2X as heavy as a hay bale of similar size.
- Making bales about 2/3 to ¾ the diameter of a hay bale will ensure a reasonable weight.