Is Wet Wrapping Worth It?

Published on Wed, 03/13/2019 - 3:23pm

Is Wet Wrapping Worth It?

 By Jaclyn Krymowski

 Not all forages are created equal, in terms of both nutritional value and cost effectiveness. If it’s not something you’re in the habit of doing, sometimes branching out can really pay off. This is especially true if seasonality and weather conditions make your go-to hay less accessible. A prime example of this may be feeding wrapped instead of dry hay. If you are not familiar with baleage, chances are you have a host of questions before you would even be able to consider it an option. Taking this new venture in the hay world can certainly open up new possibilities and advantages to up your nutrition game plan.

What’s the deal?
Like with the different types of silages, baleage relies on a simple (albeit, more minimal) fermentation process. Note that “haylage” can refer to any fermented forage. According to Alabama Cooperative Extension, this must be anywhere from 40-60% moisture (compared to dry hay which sits at >20% moisture). Baleage can be considered a form of haylage as the feed begins to mildly ferment once a wet bale has been wrapped in plastic. The wrapping process prevents oxygen and excessive moisture from reaching the bales which allows anaerobic bacteria to do their fermentation work.  

So why all the extra trouble? Many believe the fermentation process makes the forages more palatable than dry hay. Done correctly, it is also less likely to cause bloat and is easier for rumen digestion which allows for increased efficiency. Most importantly, this adds long-lasting nutritional value that is very stable for long-term storage. Namely, these are an overall enhanced total digestible nutrients (TDN) and crude protein (CP). This can improve weaning weights, increase efficiency and help with over all body condition scores.

You can also get more tonnage from a baleage crop compared to dry hay. Plus, during an excessively wet season, the ability to harvest a bit sooner without waiting on the hay to dry out can be a life saver.

Not without cautionsand warnings
Like with any forage, a lot of the quality is dependent on the harvesting and handling. The 40-60% moisture range is pivotal to success, as falling above or below can lead to a host of problems unique to silages. These sometimes-fatal consequences have plagued livestock for as long as man has been making silage.
The anaerobic bacteria, in the process of converting sugar to lactic acid, lowers the pH of the forage. When this happens, it can leave the door wide open for spoilage to creep in and contaminate what would otherwise be a nutrient-dense forage source.

While the good anaerobic bacteria love the silage environment, bad ones, such as from the family Clostridia, can also make their home here. When the moisture content is too high, approximately 61-70%, Clostridial bacteria are almost guaranteed. Botulism is one such disease that results from this bacterial family. This often-fatal illness can happen from improper fermentation and organic matter (such as dead animals unintentionally harvested) left to decompose in bales.

Listeriosis, or circling disease, is caused by bacteria from the Listeriaceae family which can arise when the pH goes over 5.4. To put it most simply, you find it anywhere there’s decaying forages that has been exposed to the air for too long.

The entire point of the plastic is to keep moisture out. When this is compromised through a tear or a puncture, even a very small one, the fermentation process can be damaged and lead to spoilage. Mold can likewise become an issue.
As with dry hay, too much moisture can also pose a serious risk for causing fires. If you are baling your own hay, be sure to have a high-quality moisture tester on hand and test both before and after harvest. If you are purchasing, be sure that your seller is experienced and wraps appropriately.
Poor quality baleage and/or inappropriate feeding can lead to nutritional issues like any other feedstuff. It can really pay to have your baleage tested so you are aware of the exact nutritional quality you are feeding.

Will a higher quality wrapped hay be more cost effective than dry hay? There is no easy answer for this, and a lot will depend on your operation. If you’re making your own, it will be more labor intensive and you’ll have to calculate the costs of the additional equipment and plastic wrap. However, this may very well pay for itself based on increased tonnage and added nutritional value depending on the size of your operation. Purchasing wrapped bales is also slightly more costly, but its storage capabilities alone may be something worth considering depending on what’s available to you.