Producing High Quality Hay and Haylage

Warm spring weather is rapidly approaching.  Pastures and hay fields will soon be greening up and starting their rapid spring growth.  It is not too early for producers to begin thinking about and preparing for hay and haylage harvest.

Forage maturity at harvest is the key component to producing hay with high nutrient content and setting the stage for adequate re-growth after hay harvest.  Best nutrient quality is achieved when cool-season grasses are harvested shortly after boot stage.

Forage moisture is also key component to quality hay or haylage.  For hay production, moisture should not exceed 22% for small square bales or 18% for large round or large square bales.  Leave the windrows in wide swaths.  This maximizes solar drying capacity, speeds the shutdown of plant respiration, and can reduce drying time by up to 50 percent.  Consider conditioning the hay which can reduce drying time by 30 to 50 percent.  Tedding should be done at about 50 percent moisture.  Any drier, and excessive leaf loss could occur.

In order to conserve higher quality forage, many producers are turning to haylage or baleage.  This reduces drying time and allows for more timely harvesting of hay fields.  Moisture is also the key to successful haylage production.  Forage should be wilted to 50 to 60% moisture before baling.  These moisture levels provide the best environment for fermentation and quality forage preservation.  Baling at 70% moisture or greater results in the production of butyric acid and other harmful byproducts.  Baling at 50% moisture or less relies on oxygen exclusion for preservation.

Bales should be made as dense as possible and wrapped as quickly as possible after baling.  Re-cutters on the baler should be considered to reduce particle size which helps reduce oxygen-caused spoilage.  When utilizing in-line tube wrappers, produce bales of uniform size and density to ensure adequate contact between the bales and plastic wrap.  This avoids large air pockets in the tube that can result when adjacent bales differ in size.  Bales should be wrapped with four to six wraps of plastic in order to ensure adequate oxygen exclusion.  Bales should be wrapped as soon as possible after baling in order to achieve adequate fermentation.  Holes in the plastic should be patched as soon as possible to reduce spoilage.

Bales or in-line tubes should be stored on a well-drained site close to feeding areas.  Haylage should be fed within one year of wrapping for best quality.

To summarize, quality haylage is produced when forage is cut at optimum maturity, baled between 45 and 65% moisture, formed into dense bales, wrapped as soon as possible after baling, and holes in the plastic wrap are patched promptly.

Many Extension offices have hay moisture testing equipment that can be used to test moisture in windrows or bales.  Contact your local Extension Center for availability of the equipment.  .

Source: Gene Schmitz, Livestock Specialist