Baled silage, or “baleage,” is an excellent way for livestock producers to harvest, storage, and feed forage. Feeding baleage is much different than feeding hay due to the higher moisture content. This higher moisture content makes it much more susceptible to deterioration. Let’s discuss some ways to decrease waste during the feeding of your baleage.

Cattle or forage producers should never leave silage exposed to the air for more than two days during feeding. If the daytime temperature exceeds 60 degrees F, please do not leave it exposed for more than one day. It is critical for producers who use an in-line bale wrapper since this determines the feed-out rate. If you have made baled silage using an in-line bale wrapper, you must have enough animals to feed at least one bale per day in the winter. While using an in-line wrapper, when the producer feeds one bale, the next bale is exposed to air. Individually wrapped bales are usually not subject to exposure before feeding, and thus the feeding schedule is somewhat more flexible.

Here are some additional “rules of thumb” on how to feed silage bales or, in some cases, what not to do.

  • Ensure that the storage site does not increase the chances of exposure to air. Some storage sites increase the likelihood of punctures to the plastic wrap. Areas around trees are great places to find dropped limbs, weed stubble, rodents, and other varmint dens. Many of these areas may create punctures that go unnoticed until it is too late.
  • Ensure that the forage is between 40-60% moisture before it is wrapped and ensiled. Baling when the crop is too dry is the most common problem for producers. Often the forage may start at the correct moisture and end up being too dry. Dry forage does not provide enough moisture to allow bacteria to provide sufficient fermentation. But, it does allow fungi to grow during storage and feeding that can lead to deterioration and increases the risk of mold formation. However, baling at too much moisture may reduce forage quality and will increase the risk of (undesirable) butyric acid formation.
  • Please do not spear into bales after they have been wrapped. Squeeze carriers or handlers are better, but may still stretch, tear, or puncture bales. Any hole in the plastic barrier can lead to small areas or even entire bales that spoil.
  • If you are using an in-line wrapper, simply spear into the bale, lift, and pull away. When feeding the bales, producers should cut over the top and peel the plastic off in one large section. To feed an individually wrapped bale, cut a large X at one end of the bale and pull back the flaps. Spear the bale, lift and cut across the top and down the other flat side to peel the plastic off in one piece. Net wrap from the bales should be removed before placing the bale feeding ring around it in the paddock. Waste and refusal are rarely an issue when feeding baled silage unless a bale is being fed to too few animals. If silage remains for a long period, please put out a fresh bale. Forcing animals to eat waste or refused silage can lead to animal health issues. Factors such as the number of animals and the feed-out rate can help determine bale size before harvest season starts.
  • The ensiling process usually completes within 4-6 weeks, depending on numerous factors. The feeding rate should still be relatively quick, however, as excessive heating, as well as spoilage, could be significant if exposed for days or even hours.

If you have any questions about baleage please contact your local county Extension agent.