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Animal Science and Forages > ASF Blog > Posts > HAYLAGE! WHAT IS IT?



Silage and Haylage have resurfaced from the 1970’s and 80’s as a lower cost option to provide the daily energy needs for beef cattle.  For beef producers that have been in the cattle business for at least one generation, they should be familiar with corn and sorghum silage.  Silages were and are still being used for those in the dairy industry. However, haylage also known as baleage has only come along in the last 20 years in specialized situations in beef cattle operations.  Haylage has been more widely used in the southern 1/3 of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and northern Florida.
            So, for the rest us that might not be familiar with the utilization and production of haylage, what is it?  Haylage is an anaerobic method of curing forage for later use that allows forage producers to harvest the forage at a time when the energy is at its highest.  Why should we think about and manage for higher energy stored forages?  The answer is if we manage the cutting and storage of haylage properly, we will significantly reduce the amount of high priced purchased feed that is needed.  It is all about money.
            Haylage is cut with the same equipment as hay however, hay is dried to 18% moisture or less and haylage is only dried to 40% to 60% moisture.  Haylage is baled like hay in windrows.  The baler needs to have some modification to prevent the wet (40 to 60 percent moisture) forage from wrapping around the main roller in the baler.  Then the green, tightly packed roll of hay needs to be wrapped to cut off all air from the bale so that it will go through the ensiling process.  Once a roll is baled it needs to be wrapped with plastic and the air cutoff in 4 to 6 hours.  The roll will begin to excessively heat if more time elapses before wrapping.  This can cause the degradation of both energy and protein, if the haylage continues to heat to higher temperatures.
            Once the haylage is wrapped, the pH is roughly 6.0 and the temperature will be in the 70’s degree Fahrenheit range.  On day 2, fermentation begins and heating slows from the peak on this day of around 95 degrees Fahrenheit and the pH drops to as low as 5.0.  On day 3, lactic acid begins to be produced which is important in continuing to decrease the pH down as low as 4.0 to 4.2.  When the haylage drops to this pH, the product is becoming stable.  It takes anywhere from 8 to 21 days for haylage to become stable and the temperature to drop to an ambient temperature.
            Haylage allows for cutting high quality forages at the proper time to maintain high %TDN values that will more closely meet the needs of our cows in our cow/calf production systems.  Ryegrass haylage is a great example of effectively utilizing high moisture forages that are able to be cut and preserved in less than ideal conditions for hay production.  We have normally had enough moisture in the winter to make a crop of ryegrass.  The optimal time to cut ryegrass is when the flag leaf is just starting to emerge.  The flag leaf breaks through in the early spring depending on planting dates in the fall.  The weather conditions are not consistently favorable in the early spring for hay production. 
            Finally, let’s utilize our Beef Pocket Hand Guide on page 42.  If you do not have one contact your local county extension office or the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association.  The different requirements month by month for a brood cow are listed for Dry Matter Intake (DMI), % Total Digestible Nutrients (%TDN), and % Crude Protein (%CP).  Then test your hay or haylage to determine how many months this forage will meet the needs of your herd.  Try this example from a ryegrass haylage test report:  62.3% TDN, 11.5% CP, 50% Dry Matter (DM) and 75 bales weighing 1700 pounds.  How many days can you feed 25 cows? How many days will the cows need supplement?  How much supplement will need to be purchased?  Call me if you are interested in discussing this further– Jonathan Gladney, Regional Extension Agent - 334-341-1674.



Vaughn T Poe

3/26/2013 11:58 AM
What is the average daily nutrient content (per ton) of Bermuda Haylage? Do those ratios decrease as you stock Haylage later in the Summer?