For the next 8 to 11 months your forage supplies will need to be maximized to save feed costs or to ensure top dollar during sales. The drought of 2011 and tight hay supplies has dramatically increased the value of all forages. In the grain business, shrink is referred to as the loss of the commodity from harvest until sale. Shrink also affects forages and can range from 5% to more than 40% and some instances losses can be higher.
Hay corps stored as baleage or haylage can experience significant forage shrink. Long term storage of haylage requires optimum conditions during fermentation in a silo or a wrapped bale. Optimum moistures; short wilting periods; proper stage of maturity; environmental temperatures during the fermentation period; proper use of inoculants; and type and number of plastic wraps will affect the potential for shrinkage. Many baleage producers mark each harvest and feed out according to long term storage considerations. Any exposure to air from rodents and other vermin needs to be repaired to ensure optimum long term storage.
Here is a review of a few sound baleage making principles. Optimum baleage starts with the proper moisture at baling. For grass, baleage the targeted moisture content is 60%, (40% dry matter). For legumes, you need slightly drier forage mass, 45% moisture and (55% DM). The second principle of good Baleage is having a tight bale that starts the fermentation cycle with limited oxygen in the forage mass. Many baleage producers will drive slower, while maintaining a high PTO speed, to produce a tighter wet bale than normally for dry hay bales. Making larger diameter bales, > 4 ft., can also reduce the tightness of the bale. Keep baleage bales to a maximum diameter of 4 feet.
Once you have a tight bale made of forage at the proper moisture, then getting the bale wrapped as quickly as possible will ensure fermentation begins immediately and levels of oxygen in the bales is depleted rapidly. During wrapping make sure to apply sufficient layers of plastic to protect the oxygen free environment of the bale. Any holes from rodents or farm animals will lead to greater shrink losses.
Storing baleage can be a challenge. Some forage will ferment completely and provide ideal storage conditions. Other cuttings will not ferment completely and as a result will not store well, especially during warm periods. Drier forages will only store for up to six months, feed these accordingly. Wet forages, > 60% will rarely keep for three months and need to be fed quickly.
For this reason many baleage producers will identify each cutting with spray paint. Simply piling cutting after cutting in a large area or pile forces the producer to feed out as access permits. Organizing storage allows selecting the poorest bales for rapid feedout during cold periods.
To minimize forage shrink, producers need to consider all aspects of storage and feedout practices. Forage values are the highest immediately following harvest. Shrinkage during storage and feedout can significantly impact total feed costs.