Baleage — a better way to save hay in wet seasons

CN-MR-3-Baleage 3by Sanne Kure-Jensen
Baleage is fermented hay. In damp regions with less chance of speedy drying and high quality hay production, baleage is a good alternative. Most farmers can get one to two additional cuts off the same fields each season.
Farmers making baleage typically cut and gather baleage 12 to 24 hours after cutting. Round bales must be wrapped in plastic within eight hours of baling. This prevents overheating and reduced quality.
Bales should be stored on their flat ends to reduce settling, air infiltration and reduced quality. Jim Booth of Aquidneck Farms in Portsmouth, RI said, “We have reduced our waste to 5 percent from 20 percent eight years ago.” The farm’s twin auger feed mixer saves another 10 percent. Booth said the feed alleys are completely empty each winter morning.
2013 Baleage Yields
Booth said, “This has been such a wet year that we bale as little as two hours after cutting. The fiber content is so low that the windrows just disappear if we wait 8 hours.” Booth’s best field typically yields 140 round bales of first-cut hay. This year that field only produced 90 bales. This significantly raises his feed costs/bale. Fuel and labor costs have not dropped. “We make the same number of trips across every inch of the field, whether we get 90 or 140 bales,” said Booth.
Booth said a good year allows four harvests of baleage. Average seasons allow three harvests. Booth typically makes all first cut hay into baleage. Second cut is generally harvested as dry hay.
Cut, Bale & Wrap
Booth cuts hay in active growth, before seed set. “If the fields get too high, cows will not eat it fresh or as hay,” said Booth. He will cut high fields with a rotary mower and look forward to new growth with better quality. A decade ago, Booth would have made construction or mulch hay on fields like these.
After cutting, Booth knows it is time to bale when the clover looks silver in the windrows. He opens the machine after making the first bale. If there are smears on the inside, Booth waits about an hour before continuing baling. Typical bales are 42 percent to 45 percent moisture.
Booth leases several local hay fields. Either landowners love to see bales on their land or they do not. “Some landowners call me when I have barely finished baling. I can be on my way to get the truck and they already call to remind me to remove the bales. Other folks let me store wrapped bales on field edges. I can collect them later at my convenience,” said Booth.
Baleage technology was invented in Ireland, long known for wet seasons. Most Irish farmers use black wrap during cool springs, white wrap in summer heat and green wrappers for late summer and fall harvests. The plastic wrap is similar to that used for winter boat covers.
Forage Varieties
Typical pastures at Aquidneck Farms have a blend of sweet brome, orchard and timothy. Pasture blends also include Festulolium, a high-energy grass from a cross of perennial or Italian ryegrass with meadow or tall fescue.
Booth said his soil pH is too low (5.2 to 5.5) to grow alfalfa, which needs a soil pH of at least 6.2. To add that much lime would be cost-prohibitive.
Booth is trying a new warm season crop this season — Birdsfoot Trefoil. This spring, a field was ready for forage blend seeding. Booth knew the seeds would rot with all the June rains. Instead, he planted a field of straight Birdsfoot Trefoil. If successful, Booth will over-seed existing fields with Birdsfoot Trefoil drilled in at 15 pounds of seed per acre.
Efficiency
Booth uses his low maintenance hay rake to combine three windrows. Then he makes one pass with his New Holland baler.
Aquidneck Farms’ bales have been so moist and heavy this year, Booth has had to run his baler at maximum pressure this year. His tractor’s clutch and backup gears have needed major repairs costing over $10,000.
Booth’s baler can make round bales 44 to 60 inches in diameter. Booth prefers to work with 48 in. bales.
Minerals
Booth sprinkles a mineral mix over the feed row each winter morning. The mineral blend is high in selenium for breeding cows. High quality summer forage means pastured animals need fewer supplemental minerals.
For more information on Aquidneck Farms visit www.aquidneckfarms.com

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