Read the current Progressive Forage digital edition

Use wrapping as a management tool

Alisa Anderson Published on 01 April 2010
bagging big bales

Wrapping hay, whether it’s thoroughly dried or is being used for balage, is becoming a fairly common forage production practice.


Producers who wrap their hay find that it can be an effective tool to save them time and money. Here are a few reasons why:

Bale on your time, not the weather’s
One of the main reasons people look into buying a wrapper is so they don’t have to work around the weather. With a wrapper you can bale your hay at moisture levels up to 60 percent.

Dennis Redington, an Illinois hay producer, says, “One advantage of wrapping is we can cut on pretty much a 28- to 30-day regimen.

We don’t worry much about the weather. In 1993, I kid you not, the discbine and the tractor and baler left the field at the same time.

It had rained so much that when we had firm ground in the field, I just had them cutting and baling. People ask, ‘How quick after you cut it can you wrap it?’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to wait a few seconds because you’ve got to have room for the tractor in between the mower and baler.’ That’s not ideal, but we could make hay when otherwise we couldn’t.”

How many layers?
The cost of the plastic wrap is generally the first concern producers have. Can that cost be recovered? Bales can be wrapped with as little as four layers, but Redington, who puts most of his hay up as balage, doesn’t recommend it.

“You will get enough extra hay per acre to pay for wrapping it because leaf loss and shrinkage is at a minimum. It’s not hard to recover the cost of wrapping,” Redington says.

In today’s tight economy, producers would want to save money on wrap by using fewer layers of plastic, but they shouldn’t risk losing their balage because they didn’t use enough layers.

“We use eight layers. We’re kind of shooting in between the least and the most. Plastic cost went up pretty significantly in the last couple of years, and that is a factor. You don’t want to waste it,” says George Renkert, a producer from Wyoming.

Shipping costs
One downside to making balage is the water weight in each bale. Once you subtract the water weight from the price, you can only make about half as much money per bale, but you still have to pay to ship the extra weight.

“You wrap it at about 55 or 60 percent moisture, and if you ship that, you’ve doubled your shipping costs,” Redington says.

The market eats it up
Denzel Finney of New Mexico raises 2,000 acres of alfalfa for his 1,600-head dairy herd. During wet spells when he can’t bale dry hay, he starts wrapping. He says he’s found balage to be ideal for dairymen. Redington says most of his market is dairymen. But it doesn’t have to be limited to dairies.

“There are sheep producers and beef cattle producers here. The balage feed value is too much nutrition for what the livestock in this area need, so we end up mixing it with straw and other lower-quality feed. But it would be phenomenal for dairies,” Renkert says.

Wrapping tips
Sometimes hay producers who wrap their hay discover a white mold on it when it is unwrapped months later. Although this “custard mold” is harmless to livestock, it makes many buyers wary. With a little extra care, producers can avoid the mold altogether.

“A way to avoid that pretty easily is inoculant on the hay. And what inoculant does for you – and you don’t have to put very much on – is bring the pH level of that hay down quickly to about 4 or 4.5 in about two or three days. When hay is growing, the level is about 7. Once you get it acidic, it keeps pretty good,” Redington says.

Redington also points out that if the plastic isn’t in contact with the hay, it creates airspace where the mold can grow.

One of the first mistakes producers make is setting the wrapped hay on a poor surface, Redington says. Stubble or other sharp objects can pierce the wrap and let air in, disrupting the ensiling process.

Care should also be taken that wildlife don’t tear the wrap. Renkert sets up electric wire to keep local deer and elk from tearing the wrap and dining on the balage.

“Another mistake people will make is if they have a tube-wrapper, they’ll try to use the brakes and wrap downhill. They should just give up and wrap heading uphill or on a level, because they get a little gap if they don’t.

When that bale comes off of the tube wrapper, it’s coming down at an angle and it’s got to go down flat. Well, it’s already pushed that wrapper ahead, and you get a little airspace in there,” Redington says.

If you must make corners with tubes, they have to be very gentle corners. Redington says he avoids making corners at all.

“Just a little maintenance does a lot. Keep the weeds down around them, a little tape once in awhile – they actually do pretty good,” Redington says.

Will it work for you?
Wrapping hay as balage can be an effective management tool to make money despite the weather.

“One guy from Idaho bought a used wrapper from me, and his idea was to use it so that he could turn the water on faster. His problem wasn’t getting the hay dried. Out West, the hay dries slowly in the windrow, and you have a nice soft product.

Out here the hay dries fast, and it gets brittle. A cow will eat anything that smells good and is soft. Wrapped hay, if you do it right, smells very good and is very soft. That’s what you need,” Redington says.

Finney has also found it a good management tool to beat the weather. “If you’re in a country where you can’t put up good dry hay and you’re close to your feeding facility, I think it’s a great way to put up hay. It’s nice to be able to get the hay off the field without having to get out there at night and bale it,” Finney says.

Larry Matlack, president of Stinger Inc. of Haven, Kansas, who sells in-line tube wrappers and has used one in his own haying operation for more than 10 years, sees his wrapper as good insurance if nothing else.

“If I save just 100 acres from being rained on each year because I can bale at any moisture (he targets 35 to 45 percent), I have made a great return on my investment. From there on, it’s just more profit and my dairy customers get more milk.”  FG

With a wrapper you can bale your hay at moisture levels up to 60 percent. Photo courtesy of Stinger Inc.