June 10, 2005 | By: Laura Skillman

Forage producers across Kentucky and elsewhere are increasingly baling their forage crops for silage in an effort to retain quality and yield.

“This is the single best tool I’ve seen for preserving higher quality stored feed especially in the spring,” said Garry Lacefield, forage specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

The benefits of baled silage are more timely harvest, lower dry matter losses during curing and storage, less chance of rain damage and better retention of leaves in high-quality forage crops such as red clover and alfalfa.

Lacefield said the practice is gaining in popularity as farmers see the advantages it offers especially during wet springs. Hay can be cut one day and wrapped the next, lessening the chances of rain damage and allowing for more timely cutting between spring showers. 

Baled silage offers a convenient and relatively inexpensive way for farmers to produce silage using much of the same equipment they already have for dry hay.

As county farmers see how well their animals perform on the silage and that it allows for a timely first cutting of hay, it is gaining in popularity, said Brian Newman, Green County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Dealing with wet springs and low temperatures that delay curing of dry hay makes the process attractive.

“It’s hard to find very many dry days in May,” he said.
With the high-quality product and less loss during storage, farmers are also seeing that any additional costs from wrapping are often offset, Newman said.

The forage in the wrapped bale goes through an ensiling process. The wrap keeps air out allowing anaerobic microorganisms to ferment carbohydrates to lactic acid, which inhibits the growth of detrimental microorganisms, according to Lacefield.

In more than 20 trials conducted by UK during the past five years, the round bale silage system (when properly done) results in storage losses that are consistently below 5 percent of the initial crop dry matter. This compares with typical losses for hay rolls of about 25 percent when stored outside on the ground without cover.

Those not familiar with the practice may have seen the large marshmallow looking objects or long white tubes along country lanes. How they look depends on the wrapping system being used by the forage producer.

There are different types of wrapping systems with most Kentucky producers using the platform wrapper and the inline wrapper. Bales are placed on the platform wrapper, which turns the bale and applies four to six layers of plastic. The inline wrapper uses less plastic because the ends of the bales are pressed against one another in a continuous line, so six to eight layers are commonly used.

There are some tips farmers need to remember to be successful in baling, wrapping and using round bale silage, Lacefield said.

Harvest at an early stage of maturity for highest quality. When cutting the silage, allow it to wilt to between 40 to 60 percent moisture. Make dense, tight, uniform bales with natural fiber or plastic twine and wrap soon after baling. Wrap bales with four to six layers of stretch-film plastic and store them in a convenient, well-drained area. Patch any holes with UV-protected plastic tape. Match quality to animal nutritional needs at feeding, and feed soon after removing plastic wrap.

Lacefield also noted that the quality of the hay going into the bale is important.

“If it is trash going in, it will be trash coming out,” he said.


Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278

Contact: Garry Lacefield, 270-365-7541 ext. 202
Brian Newman, 270-932-5311