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Baled silage can be the answer
Ohio Farm News
By Steve Bartels

I read an article some time back that said that if you have a job in town, you shouldnít try to bale hay on the farm. The premise was that it was almost impossible to get good quality hay baled because you could never be there to make it at the proper time. I donít know if that is quite accurate, but it is very difficult to make high quality hay, especially first cutting, if you work in town or not.

Here in southern Ohio, alfalfa-orchardgrass mixed hay should be harvested the first time by May 20 (at the latest) to get a good to medium-good quality hay. If you wait two or three weeks after the boot stage, the quality has deteriorated to the point where it will be difficult to maintain a beef cow on it, let alone, feed her in the second or third trimester of gestation. There is a lot of junk hay made in June in southern Ohio.

I know because that is when I tend to make mine. In fact, last year I had to throw away about four acres of late cut grass hay because it still got wet several times. It wasnít worth hauling to the barn.

According to an article in the Ohio Beef Newsletter, by Laura Skillman, University of Kentucky Extension Associate, baled silage hay may be the answer. Baled silage is being used by more and more producers. The benefits address the concerns of timely harvest, high dry matter losses and the chance of rain damage. Other countries such as Ireland have been doing this for years.

When you think about it, the climate in Ireland is much like southern Ohio in early May. They have a saying there that goes something like Ö How can you tell the weather forecast in Ireland? If you can see the mountains, itís going to rain, if you canít see the mountains, itís raining.

Hay can be cut one day and wrapped the next. Baled silage uses the same equipment as dry hay so there is no greater expense.

Animals consuming the silage do at least as well as on dry hay and much better than on poor quality mature hay. The increase in quality of the silage offsets any increase in cost of wrapping. The wrap keeps the air out while the hay goes through the ensiling process.

In more than 20 trials conducted by the University of Kentucky during the past five years, the round bale silage system losses were consistently below 5 percent of the initial dry matter. This compares to a typical loss of 25 percent dry matter loss for big round bales of dry hay stored outside on the ground.

Silage can be stored in marshmallow looking individual bags, or in the long white tubes, it all depends on the wrapping system. The hay should wilt to 40 to 60 percent moisture after it is cut. You need to make dense tight uniform bales with natural fiber or plastic twine and wrap soon after baling. Bales should be wrapped with four to six layers of plastic and stored in a well-drained site. Keep air out by patching any holes with UV-protected plastic tape.

Steve Bartels is the Extension Educator for Agriculture & Natural Resources. Readers with questions or comments for Bartels may write to him in care of this publication - P.O. Box 90, Knightstown, IN 46148.

This farm news was published in the May 17, 2006 issue of Farm World.