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Baled Silage and Moisture Guidelines

What is the advantage of baling silage? The following information may help explain the reason.

Nashville, Ark. – A new study shows that producers have up to 24 hours to wrap silage bales compared to previous recommendations of 2 hours. Moisture content for baleage should be between 40 and 60 percent for best fermentation potential.

Baled silage, commonly referred to as “baleage,” originated in northern Europe, where drying conditions are not conducive to the production of high-quality hay. This dilemma is common in Arkansas as well as most of the southeast United States. In this region, high-quality cool season grasses are difficult to harvest as hay in the spring because drying conditions are often poor. Producers typically wait for good drying weather, which occurs later in the spring or summer, but forage quality has usually deteriorated by that time.

There is increased interest in baleage techniques because they offer the potential for storing high-quality forages without prolonged periods of field-drying. This approach may also allow a regular second harvest of cool season grass crops before the summer dormancy period begins.

Warm season grasses, such as bermudagrass, have also been successfully ensiled by this method. In addition, this system generally requires a much smaller investment in equipment and labor than is necessary for storing precision-chopped silages, which makes it more attractive to small-scale producers.

In this system, forages are wilted in the field to 45 to 65 percent moisture, baled in large round packages and then wrapped in plastic to limit air access.

Plastics for baleage can take several forms. Generally, these include individual bale bags,

stretch wraps that are applied to individual bales in several layers, and long tubes that may accommodate several bales stacked end-to-end within one sealed unit.

In most cases, regular hay-making equipment can be used to produce good baleage. Equipment needs include a mower or mower-conditioner, a large round baler, bale-moving equipment that will not puncture plastic wrap or bags, raking/tedding equipment, and a bale wrapper or tubing machine. Individual silage bags can be applied manually, or bales can be placed in long tubes or wrapped with stretch film plastic.

Oftentimes, this means that quality silage can be made with only one additional piece of equipment (the bale wrapper or tuber). Most producers in Arkansas already own large round balers and other hay-making equipment.

Understanding hay moisture effect on hay heating and storage: Beginning immediately after baling, the internal bale temperature rises due to respiration of both plant cells and microbes associated with the plant in the field. This heating usually lasts less than five days.

Following the initial heating period, the internal bale temperature normally decreases briefly (at 4 to 5 days post-baling), then a prolonged period of heating begins that can last several weeks. This heating is the result of respiration by storage microorganisms.

Hay baled made at 31 percent moisture maintained a higher internal bale temperature than the drier hay (17 percent moisture) for about 25 days. Hay baled at 17 percent moisture showed very little heating. Bale density increases spontaneous heating simply because more hay is packaged within the bale. Larger and denser packages also tend to have higher internal bale temperatures because the heat produced is more difficult to dissipate.

Hay to be baled in large round or square bales should have less than 18 percent moisture.

Hay that heated to over 140 degrees F had a decrease in digestibility from 63 percent to about 50 percent. Temperatures over 160 degrees F is the danger zone and 170 degrees F or more can result in spontaneous combustion.

If you would like information on how to check the moisture using a microwave or an air fryer you can contact the Extension office.

For more information, you can visit www.uaex.edu, or send an email to skroll@uaex.edu. Howard County Extension office is still working and is there for all the residents in Howard County during this time.

By Samantha Kroll
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Samantha Kroll
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517
skroll@uaex.edu

 

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