Haylage is forage that is wetter and, if preserved properly, it could be better.
Tim Schnakenberg, University of Missouri Extension regional agronomist, said haylage – also called balage, wrapped balage or round bale silage – is typically cut at 50 to 60 percent moisture, instead of the normal 18 percent for hay.
“Haylage traditionally has been forage that is chopped and blown into a silo or a silage pit,” he told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “Probably the most common way to do it in our area is to bale up round bales, and then individually wrap or stuff them into a bale wrapper or a tube liner.”
Schakenberg said the technique is often used by larger producers and is becoming more common.
“The big advantage to this is that they have less harvest losses,” he said. “When you’re harvesting one day and getting it baled the next day or within the same day, and getting it wrapped up, there’s less opportunity for rain to ruin it. In a wet condition there’s less leaf loss, particularly with legumes and you’re in and out of the hay field in 24 hours.” He compared it to having a “hay barn in the field,” with the forage being stored in an airtight container.
Not everybody can adapt to this method. “If you like to cut down 50 to 60 acres of hay in a day’s time, it’s probably not for you,” Schakenberg warned. “You need to allow time to wrap it, and it needs to be wrapped very quickly after it’s been baled. It needs to be put in that bag in very airtight conditions so that it can properly ensile, or turn into silage. Producers really have to watch the moisture level so it doesn’t get too low or too high.” There’s also a significant up front investment. Wrapping equipment can cost between $27,000 and $30,000 – but that’s far less than a silo.
Harvesting haylage is a way to beat the weather. Dr. Shane Gadberry, professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas, told OFN the ideal target for cutting cool season grasses to obtain both maximum yield and optimal quality would be around late boot stage.
“Depending on whether it’s fescue or a cool-season annual grass, that generally is going to fall anywhere from about the middle of April to the early part of May,” he said. “Unfortunately, many times we don’t see those cool season grasses being harvested until the end of May, and in doing so they tend to be more mature and of lesser quality.”
If after being cut the hay is immediately rained on and then dries down, there’s not much negative impact on quality, but said Gadberry said if the hay is almost cured, there could be an issue.
“If we mow it and then, at that point where it’s almost cured, we have rain moving in that wets the material we get a lot of leaching and breakdown in plant material with the residual sugars that were left,” he explained.
An early harvest may also help with the later schedule when warm-season grasses like Bremudagrass are ready for cutting.
“Some years it may open up a window of opportunity to come in and have a second harvest,” Gadberry explained. He added that samples of hay submitted to a diagnostics lab for nutrient analysis tend to average in the low-to-mid 50s on total digestible nutrients (TDN).
“Many producers’ target may be something like 60 percent TDN, which is hay that would be of sufficient quality that cattle wouldn’t need supplemental feed,” Gadberry said. “The differential between that 52 to 55 and 60 would suggest that we’re probably waiting three weeks, or slightly longer, too long to get into the field.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here