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Gonzalo Ferreira, Extension Dairy Scientist, gonf@vt.edu

Last March, Dr. Wayne Coblentz, a forage scientist from the USDA-Dairy Forage Research Center (Marshville, WI), updated us about baleage technology during our 2016 Area Dairy Conference. Following are some of the main take-home massages from Dr. Coblentz: 

  • Well-made baled silage will often exhibit better forage quality characteristics than corresponding hays. 
  • Hay usually loses more leaves and requires more wilting time, which increases cell respiration and exposure risk to rain damage. 
  • Baleage has little or no spontaneous heating and less storage loses related to weathering (outdoor storage). 
  • The goal of baleage is to obtain a good anaerobic fermentation with a quick decrease of pH to ensure conservation of nutrients. 
  • The quality of the fermentation is related to the type of forage, as there are differences in sugar concentrations (corn and sorghum > small grain crops > legumes) and buffer capacities (legumes > small grain crops > corn and sorghum). 
  • Promote conditions that promote growth of desired bacteria (lactic acid producing bacteria, LAB) and reduce conditions the promote growth of undesired bacteria (Chlostridium sp.). 
  • The best fermentation occurs when the forage has high concentrations of moisture. However, ensiling too wet forages (>70% moisture) can lead to clostridial fermentations, which are not desired. Target for a moisture concentration range between 45 and 55%.
  • Too wet baleage will result in very heavy bales, which can be less safe to handle or can overload equipment (e.g., loaders). 
  • Increasing the bulk density also enhances the anaerobic fermentation. For this, reduce the ground speed and decrease the windrow “thickness”, which will increase the revolutions per bale. 
  • Consider the operative capacity of your baling equipment when mowing your pastures. Exceeding the baling capacity will increase wilting time (due to waiting), therefore increasing losses and limiting fermentation. 
  • The fermentation for chopped haylage is typically better than for non-chopped baleage (there is greater exposure of sugars in chopped haylage, which enhances the fermentation). Because of this, using inoculants is more important for baleage than it already is for haylage. 
  • Adequate wrapping is critical to obtain good quality haylage. Wrap as quickly as possible (within 2 hours since baling) and use at least 4 layers of 25- microfilm. In southern states (higher temperatures) or for long-term storage increase wrapping to 6-layers.

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Publication Date

May 31, 2016

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