To Learn About Bale Density Effects on Baleage Quality 

On January 14, 2019

To Learn About Bale Density Effects on Baleage Quality 

Baleage is a fermented forage in a large bale package that allows producers an opportunity to harvest high quality forage at greater moisture levels than dry hay.  Extension Agronomists Jessica Williamson and Marvin Hall report baleage can have several advantages over dry hay but also poses some production challenges. 

The chances of successful baleage production can be increased by applying best management practices.  Some management practices that will help ensure optimum quality baleage include baling at proper moisture content. Proper moisture levels at baling ensure that fermentation will occur after the bale is wrapped and oxygen is eliminated from the bale.  Generally, the optimal moisture for baleage is between 45-60%.  

Good baleage starts with mowing at the correct stage of forage maturity. As forages mature, the nutritive value of the forage declines.  Low quality forage for the class of livestock to be fed cannot be corrected through fermentation.  It is essential to harvest baleage at the correct stage of maturity in accordance to the species and class of livestock that to be fed.  If the highest quality feed is essential, earlier in the growth period would be ideal.  However, if yield is a priority, harvesting later in the growth stages would be ideal.

Another important step is to wrap the bale as soon after baling as possible. Ensuring the internal bale temperature does not exceed 120°F helps ensure the available protein is optimal.  The elimination of oxygen from the bale as quickly as possible after baling is the best management practice to ensure the internal bale temperature is kept lower than 120°F.  The correct number of plastic layers (wraps) is also paramount to keeping the bale temperature as low as possible and eliminating oxygen quickly to initiate the fermentation process by anaerobic bacteria.  A minimum of 6 wraps (6 layers of 1 mil plastic) should be applied to each bale, but 8 wraps is preferred.

It is important to make the densest bale possible. A study evaluating the effects of bale density on baleage quality and bunk life was conducted at the Pennsylvania State University’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center.  This study evaluated four different balers set to bale at maximum density traveling at 3 different speeds – 4, 8, and 12 mph.  

Across all balers and speeds, results indicated that bale density directly impacts baleage quality.  The greater the bale density, the lower the pH and sugar content of the fermented bale.  This indicates proper fermentation of the sugars available under anaerobic conditions.  As forages ferment, anaerobic bacteria convert sugars to acids as a byproduct of the fermentation process.  A low pH is desired in any ensiled forage as this is an indicator of proper fermentation and stabilization of the forage as long as oxygen is eliminated 

Total acid production, including lactic and acetic acids, were greater in bales with greater densities.  Greater acid production is desired in ensiled forages because it ensures the stabilization of the forages and indicates better forage quality and feeding value of the fermented forage.  As bale density increased, lactic acid, acetic acid, and total acid percentages increased.

Whole bale bunk life is increased as the density of the bale increases.  A bale is considered spoiled when it reaches 2 degrees F above the baseline temperature of the bale.  At the point of spoilage, it is no longer suitable for livestock consumption.  Results indicate as density of the bale increases, the longer that forage can sit in a feeder without spoiling or becoming unfit for livestock to eat 

Best management practices for baleage production can ensure that the highest quality forage is being produced.  By ensuring the forage is harvested at the correct stage of maturity, baled at the correct moisture, wrapped quickly, and baled at the maximum density setting on the baler, optimal forage quality can be achieved.  Baling at the maximum density setting can help ensure proper fermentation of the baleage, improving feeding value and prolonging bunk life. This study was funded by CNH Industrial; New Holland, Pennsylvania.

To Attend The Lancaster County Crops Conference On January 15

Penn State Extension in Lancaster County is excited to announce this year’s Lancaster Crop Conference. This year’s conference has a host of interesting topics and knowledgeable speakers. The meeting begins with guest speaker Dr. Ed Usset, marketing specialist from the University of Minnesota. Ed will discuss the importance of knowing your markets and planning ahead for the best return on your farming practices.  

Dr. Charlie White, Penn State Soils Specialist will discuss the effects which this year’s excessive rainfall will have on soil fertility and nutrient availability for next season and how to prepare for them.  Del Voight, Extension Educator, Lebanon Co. will present “Considering Alternative Crops and Specialty Markets in Tight Times.”  In all, 11 topics will be available to choose from.

If you plan to grow Xtend (Dicamba resistant) soybeans in 2019, and apply Dicamba, you MUST receive PDA certified training on using this product.  Only the companies that sell these products can provide the training.  Tim Helmers, BASF product rep will hold a special Dicamba training during the afternoon sessions. This training will have 1 core and 1 category PDA pesticide credit.

The conference is held at the Farm & Home Center, 1383 Arcadia Rd., Lancaster, PA and runs from 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM with registration at 8:30 AM. There is a $20.00 pre-registration fee ($25.00 for walk-ins) which includes lunch.  Reservations are much appreciated but not required. You can register in two ways:  On-line at or by calling (1-877-345-0691).  Call the Lancaster office if you have specific questions at (717-394-6851).

Quote Of The Week: ““The time is always right to do what is right.” Martin Luther King Jr