AgDM newsletter article, August 1999

Balage: A method of increasing usable forage value per acre

Ralph Mayerby Ralph Mayer, farm management specialist, 515.842.2014, mayer@iastate.edu

Balage, big bale haylage, round bale silage -- these are but a few of the names used to describe high moisture (40 to 60% moisture) forage rolled up in big round bales and then wrapped in plastic for preservation.  This method of preserving legume and grass forages is being used increasingly in dairy areas of the eastern United States and Canada.  Is there a place for beef producers to use this preservation method?  Some folks will say yes. Others will be hesitant to consider it.

What is it?

Balage is a relatively new method of preserving both legumes and grasses in a combined process of hay and silage making.  Balage is, simply, forage baled in a round baler at a relatively high moisture content and then stored in a sealed container, usually a plastic bag or wrapper.

What are the benefits?

There are a number of benefits including:

What are the disadvantages of balage?

As with any production system balage has its disadvantages. These include:

Procedures

The forage for balage is cut and conditioned just as in normal haymaking.  It should be baled in the 40 to 60 percent moisture range with 50 to 60 percent moisture considered ideal.  Any round baler that will produce a firm bale may be used.  It is important to note that bales in the 40 to 60 percent moisture range weigh about twice as much as dry hay in bales of the same size.  Thus, it’s important to limit bale size so that it can be handled by the equipment. 

Bales should be bagged/wrapped within 1 to 2 hours after baling to maintain maximum feed quality.  Bales should be moved to the storage site before bagging/wrapping to minimize potential damage to the wrapper.  Bales should be fed during the first winter and not carried over.  If bales are to be carried over to the next year or sold, it is best to put them up as dry hay.

Types of wrappers

There are basically two types of wrappers.  One is in the form of a plastic bag, much like a large garbage bag, that is pulled over the bale and tied shut.  The other is sheet plastic that is wrapped tightly around the bale and requires a special machine to properly perform the wrapping operation. 

Cost

Cost is impacted directly by the type of wrapper used.  Bags cost in the $6 to $10 range.  A bag is needed for each bale and is usually used only once.  If sheet plastic is used, a special machine is required costing $6,000 to $17,000 depending on the level of sophistication desired.  With the sheet plastic, wrapper material cost will range from $1 to $4 per bale.

Summary

Balage can provide an economical and quality forage product, especially for farmers who already own a big round baler.

Information Sources

Information for this article was gleaned from various research reports on balage available from the following universities: University of Kentucky, University of Maryland, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, and University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

 

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