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What is a silage round baler?

Mark Lowery Published on 25 September 2015

Baleage has gained enormous popularity in the humid (north-central and northeast) and wet (south-central and southeast) regions of the U.S. In areas where hay drydown is a challenge, the option to place wet hay in a sealed bag provides more flexibility for hay crop storage.

Baleage, of course, is not new. The method follows the same practice as making dry hay bales except that the hay crop is baled at higher moisture (35 percent to 55 percent, normally) and then wrapped in a tight-sealing plastic film or packed in a tight-fitting plastic tube. Making baleage is easy with the advent of machinery specifically designed to wrap or pack bales. Any type of bale (large round, large square or small square) can be made into baleage.

When producing high-quality baleage as the end objective, starting with a baler specifically designed for the job is essential. A “silage baler” is exactly what it sounds like – a specially equipped baler built to handle the demanding job of making heavy, high-moisture crops into high-density bales of hay that can easily be wrapped for the best possible storage and fermentation.

A “silage round baler” refers to round baler versions designed to handle crops effectively at high moisture. Baleage is obviously made with crop that is higher in moisture content. That means that a round baler used for making silage should not be “light-duty.” A premium round baler should be selected for this job that offers the following features:

  • A strong hydraulic density system – required to make bales as dense as possible to compress the crop as much as possible and reduce oxygen content for best forage quality after wrapping

  • High structural strength to handle increased bale weight

  • Built-in scrapers and design to keep the inside of the baler as clean as possible (High-moisture crops can have the tendency to wrap around rolls and cause functionality issues on the baler. Scrapers to keep the rolls clear of wet crop are essential to keep the baler operational.)

  • Looped tailgate rolls and rubber back-wrap rolls to help eliminate crop buildup inside the belts

  • Dual-cam pickups with heavy tine bars and pickup teeth for increased durability in heavy crops

  • Endless belts that provide lower maintenance and superior performance, designed to handle the heavier loads that can cause failures in laced belts

  • In-feed discs located inside the bale chamber to reduce power consumption by reducing friction

A way to increase the quality of baleage is to process the crop as it is baled using an onboard crop-cutter system. Processing the bale in this manner improves bale density as well as operator efficiency. Not only does the bale ensile better due to the increased density, but it breaks apart into a TMR mixer easier when it’s time to utilize the high-value feed.

Crop-cutter systems are an exceptional way to improve bale density because cut crop packs into a bale more tightly. With a denser packing, greater fermentation and less spoilage results. And it’s not just important for silage making. For bedding materials, this cutting process increases absorbency and makes bales easier to shake apart.

For dry hay or bedding stored outside, this additional density creates bales that shed water and draw in less moisture from the ground, aiding in greatly reducing dry matter losses and spoilage.

Making consistent, high-quality baleage takes some expertise. It is not simply a matter of baling high-moisture hay and wrapping it in plastic. Production of high-quality baleage requires knowledge and an understanding of the basic principles of the ensiling process as well as good management of the bales after they are wrapped.

Out in the field, the operator largely determines bale quality as the bale is formed. Baleage should be made with the highest density possible, which may require slower ground speeds in order to pack the bale tightly.

The ground speed of the baler should be less than speeds used in making field-cured hay. Slower speed results in a tighter, denser bale, which will wrap or pack more easily and allows less oxygen penetration. The goal is a bale density of 10 to 12 pounds per cubic foot.

The higher the relative bale density is, the lower the amount of air initially trapped in the bale will be, which in turn lowers the time forage spends in the aerobic phase of the ensiling process. Bales should be uniform in size and square-shouldered to provide the best contact area for the wrap film.

In certain conditions where weather is a concern, additives may be applied to assist in the ensiling process. Bales should be tied with plastic twine or wrapped with net. All sisal twines should be checked prior to using for application of rodenticides or chemical preservatives to prevent rotting. These chemical additives may degrade the wrap film during storage.

Bad bale shape or poor bale density are difficult to manage with the wrapping process. Bales should be cylindrical and maintain their shape to allow correct and uniform handling on the wrapping machine.

Soft bales which are individually wrapped will lose their shape after stacking, affecting the seal between film layers and allowing air and water penetration into the bale. Uniform bale shape is a prerequisite of consistent bale wrapping.

When wrapping individually, if the bale does not turn uniformly on the wrapping machine platform due to poor shape, the film will not apply evenly. When line wrapping, poor bale shape may lead to wrap film splits at the matched surfaces between bales. In either situation, the result will be spoilage and lost feed.  FG

Mark Lowery
  • Mark Lowery

  • Dairy and Livestock Marketing Specialis
  • New Holland Agriculture
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