The Growing Trend of High-Moisture Baling and Wrapping
Why are so many dairy farmers and beef producers now baling their high-moisture forages and grasses? There are several reasons:
- The extra cost required to bale high-moisture hay (versus dry hay) can easily be offset by reduced hay loss during harvesting, storage and handling. Dry bales stored outside, especially in high-humidity environments, can experience losses of 20 to 30 percent in just eight months.
- Forage is at the highest quality immediately after it’s cut. Therefore, wrapping high-moisture bales at that stage provides your cattle with the best-quality, high-protein feed value.
- And it’s more palatable. Refusal rates by cows eating dry hay can add another 10 to 20 percent in hay losses. Plus, with high-moisture baleage, there’s less shrink.
- Baling high-moisture forage allows you to harvest earlier and avoid damaging rain when dry hay crops are typically down. And it improves yields in later cuttings. For example, every extra day of delay (waiting to bale an alfalfa crop) amounts to a 6 percent yield loss on the following cutting. Therefore, waiting five days to bale hay can mean a 30 percent yield reduction.
- Wrapping high-moisture bales is an excellent option for both beef and dairy producers during wet and high-humidity hay seasons, especially if you consider today’s very unpredictable weather patterns.
- And if you’re starting from scratch, bale wrapping is roughly half the cost of investing in precision choppers, wagons and expensive storage facilities.
Baleage is a pretty inexpensive option for producers who rely heavily on baling hay and grazing. For the most part, you need a baler – one specifically designed for handling high-moisture forage. Those designed with a robust pickup assembly, heavy-duty tines and a pre-cutting knife system will make a significant difference in terms of impact on performance, feeding and increased palatability.
The biggest cost after that is the plastic wrapper. Individual wrappers typically run anywhere from $12,000 to $25,000 at manufacturers’ suggested retail price. From a return-on-investment standpoint, if you’re baling less than 500 bales per year, that’s probably the way to go. The higher-production inline wrappers are much faster, but they start at $20,000 and can cost up to $45,000 at manufacturers’ suggested retail price.
We recommend wrapping hay at 45 to 55 percent moisture for best results. Different moisture levels result in different techniques and outcomes:
- 55 to 65 percent moisture – Great for fermentation, but you run the risk of leaving a wet, rank layer (1 to 2 inches deep) on the outside of the bale.
- 35 to 45 percent moisture – Minimal fermentation occurs, but it requires more layers of wrap. Bales can be fed up to a year later. At this range in moisture level, your primary goal is more about excluding oxygen than in creating good fermentation for stored bales.
- Less than 35 percent moisture – Less fermentation occurs. It requires an extra layer or two.
- Wrap as soon as possible. We recommend wrapping no more than 24 hours after baling to begin the fermentation process. This will reduce the internal temperature of the bale and prevent aerobic deterioration.
- Net-wrap your bales. You get a smoother bale surface that contains the stems and reduces the chance of poking holes in the plastic film.
- Select blown, low-density polyethylene film around 1-mil thick.
- Pre-tension the film to stretch 55 to 75 percent. Excessive stretching allows oxygen and CO2 to pass through the film. Under-stretching won’t allow the bale to properly seal because the plastic won’t adhere properly. And don’t wrap during a rainstorm; wet film loses its tackiness.
- Use a minimum of six wraps using quality plastic. Different field and crop conditions impact the number of wraps per bale needed, so be sure to consult a local expert. Also, avoid rodenticide-treated sisal twine. It has the potential to degrade film.
- For best results, run your wrapped bales inline running north/south. Plastic film won’t degrade as quickly if you simply use the east-to-west path of the sun to uniformly balance bale exposure to ultraviolet rays.
- Wrap close to the storage site to minimize handling. Store away from trees, where birds and rodents are found. This reduces the chance of plastic film being damaged.
- Avoid sharp stubble areas and poorly drained soil.
- Periodically check for damage. If stems have poked through the film or you note rodent damage, repair immediately.
- After wrapping, don’t move or handle bales after 12 hours. Squeezing them can break film layers