Last winter at Premier, we fed our flock baleage that we produced. The previous two summers were wet and not suited for producing quality conventional field dried hay. The low quality forage was low in protein and energy and required supplementation for our gestating ewe flock. We experimented with baleage and found the results satisfactory.
Photo: Carl (in the tractor) mows with a mower conditioner. The mower has "rollers" which crimp the grass to aid in the drying process.
High moisture baleage is typically baled at 55-65% moisture, though this figure ranges even among forage experts. Moisture is determined through several simple tests or using a moisture tester. The bales are individually wrapped or are wrapped in tubes to prevent mold and harmful bacteria from forming. This makes each bale or tube its own silo and eliminates the need for indoor storage for quality forage. Once wrapped, aerobic bacteria (oxygen using) consume the oxygen contained in the bale and then anaerobic bacteria (non-oxygen using) consume available sugars and produce various nutritious organic acids, preferably lactic acid. The acid preserves the bale in a similar manner that vinegar (actually the nutritious organic acid—acetic acid) preserves cucumbers as pickles. Ideally enough acid is eventually produced to inhibit these bacteria and others from further growth, preserving the bales for winter feeding. The energy available to livestock may be determined by submitting a sample to a feed laboratory and have a forage test conducted for TDN (total digestible nutrients). When ready to be fed the bale is unwrapped and set in one of our Big Bale Feeders.
Photo: The double basket rake allows us to rake two windrows into one.
Photo: The single row shortens the number of trips around the field we need to take while baling.
Photo: The forage in this field is a clover/grass mix. This field was made into small square bales.
Baleage is produced similarly to field dried-hay. The main differences are that baleage is wrapped and there is reduced time between mowing and baling. The higher moisture percentage shortens the amount of time the hay needs to lay in the field curing. Since the bales are wetter, they are much heavier when compared to conventional bales of the same diameter. The bale is also packed very tightly in order to reduce the amount of air (less air means less chance of mold or of harmful bacteria growing). Baleage is moved with grapples since bale spears penetrate the bale or wrap and would introduce unwanted air into the bale.
Photo: The baler's cutter bar pre-chops the forage for better compaction within the bale. This produces very "tight" bales.
Photo: Due to the high moisture content and shorter drying time, the forage is baled while it is still very green and unbleached by the sun.
Photo: Individually wrapped bales are easier to transport once wrapped. They also look like very large "marshmallows".
Photo: The first bales we wrapped were wrapped with an inline wrapper. It worked very well but we chose to go with individually wrapped bales for ease of transport.
Individually wrapped vs. Inline bales
Inline bales are baleage bales that are set end to end and wrapped on the sides. The benefits are less plastic used for wrapping. However, the bales at the ends of the "tubes" are exposed resulting in lost forage. Bale size must be consistent otherwise bulges and air bubbles may form in the "tubes".
Photo: To protect the bales from curious livestock and hungry varmints (raccoons), netting is installed around the bales to discourage the animals.
Whereas individually wrapped bales use more plastic but they can be handled once wrapped, inline bales cannot. We can move these individually bales without compromising the protective plastic.
Photo: Photo: PermaNet electrified netting was installed around these bales since our livestock guardian dogs have access to the area where these bales are placed and the dogs enjoy lounging on (and puncturing) the bales.
We have to take care where the bales are stored. Sticks and stems can puncture plastic so the ground we set the bales on had to be clear of debris. Curious sheep or a guard dog looking for something to climb on can puncture a bale just as easily, for this reason we set up electrified netting around our bales.
Did our sheep eat it? Yes, they maintained excellent condition throughout the winter. We ultrasound the ewes to determine if they were carrying singles, twins or triplets. Ewes scanned with triplets were later separated off and fed baleage with soybean hulls for a protein supplement, otherwise no supplement was needed.
Photo: Ewes and their lambs consuming baleage from one of our wire panel Big Bale Feeders.
Did we like baleage? Yes and we're producing it again this year even though it has been drier than the last three summers. We still produce small squares to feed in our low waste bunk feeders but the majority of our hay crop is now wrapped up.