Making High Quality Baleage

Mr. Jason Hartschuh, Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Crawford County, The Ohio State University Extension

Spring 2019 has been challenging to say the least. Hay fields have disappeared due to winter kill and small grains matured before we could make hay. Making the forages that you have at the highest quality possible will be key. One way to maintain forage quality with small dry weather windows is to make silage or baleage instead of dry hay. The ideal conditions for baleage is to bale the hay between 40 to 65% moisture and wrap within 2 hours of baling. This process uses anaerobic conditions and the acids produced in fermentations to preserve hay. Baleage fermentation is slower than in haylage, often taking 6 weeks. When forage is baled between 25 to 40% moisture, it will not ferment properly and baleage at these moisture levels should be considered as temporary storage. During such situations, preservation is primarily a function of maintaining anaerobic, oxygen-limiting conditions. Mold is very likely at this moisture; higher bale densities and more wraps of plastic is required to better seal out oxygen. Baleage at this moisture will not maintain quality very long in storage, and thus, it needs to be fed as soon as possible. Baleage can be utilized as a plan or as a backup, but the best baleage is a plan and not a rescue.

If you are thinking baleage might be a needed option for you, either as planned or when your dry hay window disappears, start your plan before you are calling around to find a bale wrapper. The first consideration is how fast will you be able to feed the forage? This is a major consideration when selecting the type of bale wrapper you will buy or rent. The two options are individual wrappers, which are usually ideal if feeding 50 head or less from these bales. These machines can usually wrap 20 to 30 bales per hour and use twice as much plastic as a line wrapper.  Line wrappers can wrap 40 to 50 bales per hour using less plastic, but they require uniformity between bales. When bales aren’t uniform, there is oxygen captured between bales, often leading to spoilage within the tube of bales where bales meet. They require higher feed-out rates of ideally two bales per day. With a line wrapper, the end of the next bale is exposed to oxygen when you remove one bale to feed and the spoilage clock begins.

Determining where you will be storing bales ahead of time is very important. Making sure that the plastic is not punctured, allowing oxygen to enter and spoil the forage, due to storage site selection is critical. Ideal storage is in a well-drained location with year around access. Stone pads can work well as long as they don’t puncture the plastic. Be weary of storing on stubble, grassy areas, or under trees. These areas often attract rodents, lead to plastic damage, or have sticks that fall and puncture the plastic. Stored forage should be checked weekly for damage and holes taped as soon as they are found.

While KEEPING OXYGEN OUT is the most important part of making high quality baleage, it starts with mowing. When baleage is the planned storage method, your harvest capacity-limiting factor will be how many bales you can wrap an hour with the ideal goal of wrapping the bales within 4 hours. Based on research done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we recommend laying swaths as wide as your mower will allow, helping preserve forage quality and speeds up drying to 65% moisture by 10.8 hours. When baling, your goal needs to be for the highest density bales that you can make. A study from Penn State shows that by increasing bale density from 6 lb/ft3 to 8lb/ft3,you gain an extra 12 hours of bunk life in the haylage due mostly to better bale fermentation. It is important to wrap bales as soon as possible after baling to avoid spoilage. The temperatures of bales that were wrapped each day from at baling to 4 days after baling are provided in Figure 1 (data from University of Wisconsin). With the temperature on day one representing the actual day of wrapping. These data show that just 24 hours after baling, the  bales that are not wrapped were over 120ºF. While wrapping bales even 4 days after baling stopped the heating process, the quality of these bales still declined.  

Most bale wrap is one mil low-density polyethylene and bales need a minimum of 5 mils of plastic to seal out oxygen, requiring a minimum of 6 wraps. Types of plastic vary greatly in their stretchiness, which can reduce thickness by up to 25%. Some stretch is necessary so that the plastic stays sticky and seals well between the layers of plastic. Be cautious when wrapping in the rain as this will reduce the stickiness and allow more oxygen to penetrate, causing spoilage. Also, be cautious when wrapping forages that poke through the plastic which will require more layers. When oxygen enters the bale, they start to heat and quality declines when temperatures are over 120ºF.  The amount of time until bales are wrapped and the number of mils of wrap significantly effects internal bale temperature. Figure 2 shows that 6 to 12 mils of plastic maintained similar bale quality. With less wraps than this, bale spoilage is often prevalent. The general recommendations for layers of bale wrap are provided in Table 1.

Table 1. General recommendations for layers of bale wrap.

Moisture (%)


Layers of plastic

< 30%

Possible, but not ideal for fermentation. Some mold growth likely

8 layers minimum to ensure oxygen exclusion

30 to 45%

Possible, but not ideal for fermentation. Some mold growth could occur

8 layers minimum to ensure oxygen exclusion

45 to 60%

Ideal for baleage production and fermentations

Use 6 layers of 1 mil film

60 to 70%

Possible, but high moisture can result in spoilage and low palatability

8 layers of wrap to ensure oxygen exclusion


Too wet for proper fermentation, baleage production is not recommended

Wait for the forage to dry down further before bailing

After bales are wrapped, handle them carefully using a squeeze so that plastic is not torn. If plastic is torn in storage, the tears should be taped as soon as you notice them. For this reason, bales should be inspected weekly in storage. Never use bale spears to move wrapped haylage until the day you are going to feed it. It is recommended that bales be fed within a year of wrapping. Haylage that is to wet, over 60% moisture, should be feed within 3 months, and haylage that is below 40% will not ferment well and should be fed within 6 months. Most of the time when we make baleage as a rescue, it falls in the range of needing to be fed within 6 months. When done right, baleage can last a year and make excellent feed that often has 5% better quality than dry hay. When done wrong, haylage can spoil, mold, and grow organisms that will make your animals sick; use your eyes and nose to be sure that the forage your going to feed is of high quality. Don’t force animals to eat forage they don’t want. 


Undersander D., “Making Baleage” UW Extension, January 2015,

Hall M., and J. Williamson, “Bale Density Effects on Baleage Quality” Penn State Extension, May 2019,  Accessed May 2019  

Undersander D., and C. Saxe, “Field Drying Forage for Hay and Haylage” UW Extension Focus on Forage”, April 2013, Accessed May 2019