AUBURN, Ala. – Baleage, often used interchangeably with haylage, is forage that is harvested, baled, ensiled, wrapped and stored in plastic at 40 to 60 percent moisture.
“In the Southeast, cool-season annual grasses and legumes are among the highest quality forages that can be grown in the region,” said Dr. Kim Mullenix, Alabama Cooperative Regional Animal Science and Forages Extension specialist. “These forages can have high levels of soluble carbohydrates, which help with the ensiling process.”
Benefits of Baleage
“Baleage production allows producers to harvest and conserve forage in a shorter time period than dry hay due to reduced drying time,” said Mullenix.
Average percentage moisture of stored forages
Stored Forage Type Moisture, Percent
Dry hay ≤ 20%
Haylage 40 – 60 %
Silage ≥ 65 %
Because of the frequent rainfall conditions in the Southeast, harvesting dry hay at the right stage of maturity and moisture content is more challenging and harvesting as baleage may help shorten this window.
Disadvantages of Baleage
There are, however, several disadvantages to baleage production.
Labor and production costs, for example, can be a limitation for some producers as a high-moisture baler and bale wrapper are needed for production. Producers may consider contract wrapping to lower production costs.
“Additionally, there is a ‘learning curve’ with making the shift from hay to baleage production,” said Mullenix. “Getting forage baled and wrapped at the right moisture content, familiarity with plastic wrap, storage, and feeding of baleage all differ compared with traditional hay production.”
Deer, raccoons and birds can be attracted to baleage but setting up an exclusion area using temporary electric fencing may deter larger wildlife.
According to Mullenix there are two common mistakes producers make with baleage.
- Harvesting too late – Paying close attention to the stage of plant maturity at harvest is key for getting the highest quality baleage. With cool-season annual grasses such as annual ryegrass, the target stage for harvest is the boot stage. This occurs when the flag leaf has just emerged from the center of the plant stem, and before seedhead production begins to occur. Once seedhead production begins to occur, its onset is rapid. Monitor fields closely and try to harvest as the flag leaf begins to emerge. This way if weather conditions become unfavorable, you are still ahead of the “maturity curve”.
- Moisture content – Putting up baleage either too wet or too dry can lead to spoilage. Test the moisture of forage in the field prior to baling by using a microwave test. Information on how to conduct a microwave test can be found here.
When to Feed and Nutritional Quality
Baleage can be fed as soon as one month after wrapping and the ensiling process is complete and it can be fed as whole bales or chopped or ground and incorporated into mixed rations.
“As with any new feed source, understand that it may take an adjustment period for animals to be accustomed to consuming baleage, particuarly with young, growing animals,” said Mullenix.
Minimize losses by using improved feeding techniques, such as a cone- or ring-type feeder, trailer or cradle.
To prevent spoilage provide animals an amount of baleage that can be consumed within one to two days and enough for one day in the summer months.
The nutritional quality of the baleage at feeding time depends on the nutritional quality of the hay when it was cut.
“What goes in must come out,” said Mullenix, “and putting up low quality forages only means a low quality feed product at the end of the day.”
Proper storage can also impact the feeding value. Wrap bales with a minimum of six layers of plastic while the hay has a moisture range of 40 to 60 percent to decrease storage loss and to produce a more stable product at feeding.
“The stage of plant maturity at harvest is the single largest factor affecting the feeding value of baleage,” said Mullenix. “The nutritional quality of baleage will only ever be as good as the starting product.”
For more information about baleage contact your local Alabama Cooperative Animal Science and Forages Extension specialist.
For more information on feeding baleage to cattle read, Feeding Baleage to Beef Cattle.