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0406 FG: Wrapping big bales of baleage, hay and straw

Published on 07 August 2006

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Larry Matlack of Matlack Farms. Matlack discusses how wrapping bales has benefitted his business.

Like everyone in the hay business, much of our hay is at a high risk for weather damage. Rained-on hay and delayed cuttings due to rain were taking too much of our profit. In-line wrapping created a storage system for hays with a wide range of moisture content.

We have found that wrapping and storing our 3-foot-by-4-foot-by-8-foot hay bales with in-line wrapping has worked very well for hay with a moisture content between 8 and 55 percent.

Since it only takes one or two days for hay to wilt to the target moisture range, the risks for exposure to bad weather and subsequent forage quality loss are greatly decreased.

Advantages for the producer
We see many ways making baleage can be advantageous to other hay producers. Baleage, or silage bales, are increasingly being used to provide high-quality feed to market and to help limit weather losses.

Wrapping our hay crop gave us the ability to manage around weather conditions.

We wrap higher moisture hay instead of waiting for dry hay. We don’t worry about the barn burning down or the tarps blowing off.

We don’t take chances waiting for our hay to dry down to a moisture content of 8 to 12 percent. We plan for and store hay with a moisture content of 30 to 55 percent.

Wrapping our first cutting made that cutting much easier to manage. Normal weather patterns in July and August give us dryer weather at that time.

Using the in-line wrapper allows us to manage dry hay production during drier weather patterns in July and August. We make dry hay when we want to and when it can be done with much lowered risks.

Wrapping our hay and straw gave us an alternative to building and insuring extra hay barns. Our first-year investment was reduced by more than 80 percent compared to other storage methods. In-line wrapping also cut our long-term costs per ton by nearly 50 percent while allowing for more flexibility in our baling operation.

Not just for baleage
We wrap thousands of bales of dry straw each year, in addition to our baleage. Wrapping allowed us to utilize idle ground for temporary storage.

Our straw buyers want a top-quality product. Wrapping provided a complete cover for our straw bales, compared to tarping (which only covered a portion of our harvest). When wrapped properly, the bales came out of the wrap just like we put them in.

The speed and flexibility of the in-line wrapper gave us many tons of dairy-quality hay to market; this hay normally would have been rained on and probably ended up in the grinder market or worse.

Wrapping with our in-line wrapper is the most efficient way to produce baleage and allows us to wrap and stack our 3-foot-by-4-foot-by-8-foot baleage bales two high.

On dry hay, we can go three high with 3-foot-by-4-foot-by-8-foot or two high with 4-foot-by-4-foot-by-8-foot large square bales. The amount of plastic needed and stacking area required is far less than single-bale wrappers and one-high, in-line wrappers. In-line wrapping is fast; we have wrapped more than 1,500 bales per day.

Beyond the weather
Helping us beat the weather is not the only advantage of silage bales. Getting the windrows off the field quickly minimizes stand damage and allows us to irrigate sooner.

In addition, baling at high-moisture levels reduces dry matter (DM) loss and nearly eliminates the need to work all night. Typical harvest losses are reduced by 8 percent or more when putting up baleage versus dry hay.

Our customers are convinced about wrapping. Baleage has better palatability than other feeds because of its soft texture.

Baleage has less dust, more quality and provides a consistent, natural food source for cows. If given free choice, the cows go to the baleage first. The end result is less waste in the feeders, keeping our customers and their cows happy.

Although putting up baleage is not a care-free process, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Deciding to make dense bales at the right moisture is an important factor for making baleage.

To produce baleage, hay is baled at a moisture content between 35 and 55 percent and then wrapped with a minimum of eight layers of 1-mil plastic as soon after baling as possible. The ensiling process can occur because the plastic seals out the oxygen, allowing proper fermentation.

Once we have our line placed on well-drained soil, checking them periodically is a must. We walk the line to make sure no holes have appeared on the wrap. If there are holes, we repair them right away. We do not just wrap and forget our harvest.

While all of that is extremely important, the benefits from wrapping our hay keep on coming. An extra $29,000 dollars of profit from 350 acres of hay was realized at the end of the first year.

Not having any black hay to get rid of and having an extra cutting convinced us that wrapping big bales was the way to go.

We have aggressively marketed this higher moisture hay, and the results are definitely worth the efforts. The consistent pricing of baleage versus the up-and-down market for dry or grinding hay has actually led to added profit to our bottom line.

Baleage takes more management, not less, but it can yield big rewards. Producers lose potential income each year because of rained-on hay. Wrapping big bales is an option to take more control of your business.  FG

Contact Justin Matlack at to learn more about in-line wrapping.

—Submitted by Matlack Farms