“Producers can put up hay as baled or chopped silage, or bale up rained-on swathed forage,” explains Karin Lindquist, forage and beef specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre.

“Baled silage gives higher flexibility, as forage is put up at a higher moisture content than hay. The ideal moisture content for baled silage is between 45 to 55% moisture."

She adds that this form of forage is also useful for cereals such as barley and oats, or perennial stands such as alfalfa-grass mixes.

“Generally, hay is put up at 14 to 16% moisture, which is very difficult to do this year when it rains every couple of days.”

Allowing the forage to wilt for one or two days reduces moisture content. Baled silage needs a longer wilting period than pit silage.

“Bale silage that is higher than 55% moisture can create problems by freezing in the winter,” says Lindquist. “These bales can freeze solid, and cattle cannot break off the forage. A bale processor or tub grinder may be needed to break the bale apart prior to feeding.”

“Bales that are wrapped with a lower moisture content will not go through a complete fermentation. Bale silage that contains roughly 30% moisture will be stable and need to be fed this upcoming winter, as they will spoil during next spring’s thaw.”

For this forage to ferment properly and to prevent spoilage, she says that it is necessary to remove as much air out of the bale as possible.

“Setting tension at maximum pressure makes a tightly packed bale. An anaerobic- no oxygen - environment is needed for proper fermentation to take place. Net wrap maintains bale shape better than twine prior to wrapping.”

As these bales will be very heavy for equipment to handle, she recommends making them between one-half to two-thirds the normal size of a large round bale. They will then be easier to get into the tube or wrapping machine.

“Wrapping must happen within 12 hours of making the bales,” she adds. “Harmful aerobic fermentation starts as soon as the forage is cut, using up soluble carbohydrates – energy - and protein in the forage. This will continue until the bales are wrapped in plastic - either in a tube, in a row or as individual bales.”

Individually wrapped bales reduces the amount of air present between the bales. Between 4 and 6 layers of plastic are needed to minimize risk of any holes created by the forage within the bale.

“Be careful when moving the bales with a front-end loader tractor. Grapple forks will punch holes in the plastic, and those need to be repaired immediately. Specially designed grapple mounts will prevent this damage.”

Lindquist says that creating a tube may be an easier method of wrapping, as long as the tube is placed in its desired location before feeding the silage bales.

“Some tubing methods do not remove enough air out for the ensiling process. Seal any holes after filling the tube. Cut a small hole and attach a shop vacuum to remove as much air as possible out of the tube. The time it takes will vary depending on the situation.”

Hay or greenfeed that has been laying out in the field for quite some time and is too wet to make dry hay can also be made into bale silage.

“It will ferment, but the forage quality will be much lower than the product made without any rain,” she explains. “Rain leaches out nutrients, including soluble carbohydrates and protein. This lower-quality forage should be fed to cows in mid-pregnancy, since their nutrient requirements are lower than when they are in their third trimester.”

Contact

Connect with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)