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Producers should consider baleage as a feed option

Mahlon Peterson Published on 27 February 2012
round bales

The use of baleage, also known as round bale silage, continues to grow across the upper Midwest on dairy and livestock farms.

Ruminant animals do well with fermented forages and baleage offers an alternative to producers with limited conventional storage such as upright silos.

Baleage production seems to have filled a niche for small to moderate-sized operations of all kinds, regardless of species.

Baleage is baled at a higher moisture content than hay and is then sealed in plastic, either individually or placed in a “sleeve.” The product then goes through a normal fermentation process and the producer has a number of “mini silos” of baleage.

Advantages and disadvantages
Baleage has several advantages over dry hay production including:

• decreased drying time from cutting to baling (hours versus days)

• increased potential for timely forage harvest

• less mechanical handling at higher moisture and less leaf loss

• increased potential for higher feed quality (RFQ)

• more manageable isolation of feedstuffs

There are some “trade-offs” to the process, including:

• increased harvest cost per bale on a dry matter basis

• higher risk of spoilage if the plastic wrap is compromised

• plastic disposal issues

• transportation concerns

Storage and handling
Storage and handling of baleage presents some problems. Most of those problems relate to the proximity of the storage area to the feeding area and making sure that the equipment used to move the baleage does not puncture the plastic wrap.

Economics
When one looks at the economics of baleage, we see some other trade-offs. Brian Holmes, UW-Extension Specialist in the Biological Systems Engineering Department at UW-Madison, has recently completed research on silage storage costs.

Holmes compared storage costs for bunker silos, silo bags, silo piles and baleage. His research looked at forage systems for three dairy herd sizes (100, 200 and 400 cows). He valued hay silage at $85 per ton of dry matter and corn silage at $70 per ton of dry matter.

His analysis starts as the material is brought to the storage structure. For our purposes, his analysis starts when the bale is wrapped individually or placed in a tube.

The machinery costs in Holmes’ work included a 40-horsepower tractor ($30,800) to operate the individual bale wrapper ($16,670), a 105-horsepower tractor ($65,500) to move bales and a self-propelled tube wrapper ($16,670).

The plastic costs for the individual bales was $8.35 per bale whereas the tubed bales were $4.94 per bale. Costs not included in his analysis were road access, snow removal, plastic disposal, multiple silo fill per year, harvest and delivery to storage and delivery to animals.

A study of his research shows that the baleage system is quite competitive with other forms of temporary silage storage.

The annual costs and capital costs are comparable to other systems and, in many cases, they tend to be more reasonable than the other systems.

They compete well as part of a comprehensive plan to use baleage in combination with bunker silos or piles used for corn silage storage. The type of storage base has an effect on capital and annual costs.

The Holmes study compared stacking individual bales three high versus the tubed bales, thus driving up the cost of the base for the tubed bales, which helps to offset the increased plastic costs of the individually wrapped bales.

Transportation
Baleage transportation is a bit more complex. Most baleage users probably wrap their bales on site near their feeding area and have few transportation concerns.

However, there are a number of producers who want to buy baleage and have it transported to their farm.

Several problems arise when we try to put “wheels” under the baleage for longer-term shipping and delivery:

• We transport fewer bales per load.

• The bales weigh more because of increased moisture content.

• There are increased costs for wrapping, loading and unloading.

Conclusions
Baleage offers an alternative to more permanent forage storage structures at competitive annual and fixed costs. Transportation and handling costs increase when we wrap the bale, but feed quality improves along with flexibility.

One of the bigger concerns is transportation and those costs will need to be passed on to the buyer by the forage producer.   FG

—Excerpts from Midwest Forage Association newsletter, January 2012

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