Good baling techniques improve silage quality

According to Teagasc higher energy and fertilizer prices will increase the cost of baled silage so farmers need to focus more on how to improve silage quality while minimising costs at all stages.

Good wrapping techniques start with baling – a badly shaped round bale cannot be wrapped properly. Bales should be dense and cylindrical in shape, not bulging in the middle or conical shaped, and to achieve this crop flow is key – starting with the swath. The swath should be uniform in shape and the full width of the pick-up reel.

The baler should be serviced regularly and the chamber density set according to the crop. To prevent downtime and inefficient use of balewrap, several pre-season and in-season checks can be made.

Before use the experts recommend that all moving parts are free, in particular the Pre Stretch Unit (PSU) which can cease or stiffen up out of season. So check PSU and turntable gearing for wear and tear.

Also check the PSU rollers for any damage and thoroughly clean down with de-greaser. Check PSU springs and replace if necessary. Dirty or worn-out rollers will cause aquaplaning, film tearing and uneven film application so preseason maintenance will save you time and money.

Many farmers are fortunate to have had surplus bales of silage for hungry stock during the recent cold weather when grass growth did not match demand.

Baled silage is an ideal and flexible forage system. Bales can also be fed during a drought, before silage pits are opened or when forage is scarce.

Silage bales are easily handled and quicker to feed thanks to net wrapping and specialised diet feeders. Bales can also be made over long weekends to suit the family farm circumstances and when weather conditions are best suited to wilting.

We had lots of silage left over early in the spring after a mild winter and good grass growth last year however the situation could be quite different in 2012. In any event taking out surplus grass as bales is an excellent management practice.

Due to increasing costs farmers may be temped to skimp on wrap quality or question the wisdom of using extra layers of film for higher dry matter (DM) silage, haylage etc. A recent study at CEDAR (Centre for Dairy Research) at Reading University in England makes interesting reading. This research compared the effects of different wrap layers on spoilage, nutrient quality and the potential impact on animal production. Samples of harvested grass were taken at ensiling to determine DM and crop quality. (See also Teagasc data) The crop was cut, wilted for 24 hours, then baled and wrapped the same day in the second half of June. In late October, bales were reweighed and opened. Visible wastage was removed and weighed, and the new DM content determined to estimate waste during storage and samples were taken for analysis.

In this study, the average wastage in bales wrapped with four layers of black film was almost 9% of the total fresh weight of the bale. However, wrapping bales with six or eight layers reduced wastage to less than 1%.

There was also a significant increase in the digestibility (D Value) and metabolisable energy (ME) as the numbers of layers went up from four to six to eight in the black film.

The higher forage quality could be due to improved fermentation as shown by the reduction in pH and ammonia nitrogen, and the increase in sugars.

Clearly for the majority of farmers who use only four layers of film it is essential to use a quality balewrap and ensure that your contractor wraps the bales carefully.

If bales are not wrapped properly part of the bale will only have two layers of film and can be easily damaged during subsequent handling operations.

Minimise losses after wrapping

When wrapped bales are tipped on to grass stubble or transported on rough trailer beds there is a higher risk of wrap damage. This will promote mould growth, reduce quality and the mould could cause livestock deaths.

If wrapping in the field, apply more layers, and do not risk bird damage by leaving bales in the field. If possible move the bales the same day. This is because the mowed ground provides a veritable feast of worms, beetles and other insects. When they have finished eating the birds peck holes in the balewrap out of curiosity or to catch the numerous flies stuck on the tacky film surface in warm weather.

Ideally bales should be wrapped away from the field at the storage site to minimise damage. Ensure bales are covered with a net to protect from bird damage, cats, etc Choose a storage site away from trees and very exposed areas. The site should be well-drained, level and devoid of sharp objects. If practical, a sand base layer is recommended. Ideally, roll out a protective layer of heavy gauge polythene sheeting underneath the stack.

Where necessary, protect the stack from farm animals with suitable fencing. Vermin should be discouraged by placing weather-protected bait stations around the stack perimeter. Ensure these are also protected from pets and farm animals.

Do not store bales near watercourses as effluent from low DM bales could pollute the waterways. Keep fertilisers, herbicides, mineral oils, etc. away from the stack as these can damage the film.

Do not stack bales more than three high. Heavy low DM bales should be stored in a single layer. This prevents bales at the bottom being squashed and bursting the seal. Regularly check bales for damage and re-seal with a UV protective tape.


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