Updated: Jan 26
With the cost of straw fluctuating from one year to the next, producing home-grown haylage could be a good option for farmers looking to gain control of feed inputs.
Krone’s James Duggleby believes producing haylage on-farm makes more sense compared to buying-in straw, which is of low nutritional value and is often inconsistent. He says: "Straw can be very variable in quality and the crop typically analyses at 12-13% crude protein, 60-65 D-value and 9.5ME. In comparison, wheat straw analyses at around 89% DM, 3-4% crude protein, 6-7% ME and 38 D-value".
The best time to cut haylage is in August-September when the nutritional value of grass is lower and quality first cut is in the clamp. Haylage’s high dry matter does add to preservation challenges as it is difficult to achieve a rapid drop in pH and thus an effective fermentation.
Principles James describes it as ‘an easy crop to get wrong’ and emphasises the importance of adhering to some basic principles at harvest "You can be more in control of quality and production costs". He adds: "This is about utilising the grass you have on your farm and not being beholden to an external supply. It is about getting the most from your grass. Can you make haylage to put into the feed mix to get more milk from forage?"
KRONE's top tips for better Haylage
Use quality grass. Haylage is often produced off poor ground. It should be treated like any premium crop. Cut when grass is just at the heading stage, not once it is old and stemmy.
Aim for 45-55% dry matter. It is better to go wetter and wilt for less time than compromise quality and leave it to wilt for several days.
Carry out at least two passes with the tedder to facilitate an even wilt (depending on weather).
Opt for a high-density baler. This will aid consolidation, which is essential for optimum preservation in a dry crop like haylage.
Make sure you achieve a flat profile across the bale. This will avoid air pockets and make it easier to stack.
Be aware of puncture risk. Wrapping in the field is best for fermentation, but can add to the risk of punctures
Use at least four layers of wrap, ideally six.
Use a film rather than a net wrap and then wrap on top. Net can get pockets of air in it.
Consider chopping. You do not have to keep haylage long. Chopping to three inches can aid consolidation.
Always use an additive. The high dry matter crop, combined with baling, means it is difficult to drop the pH below 5.5, which can create fermentation and moulds to propagate as soon as the bale is unwrapped. This means an additive is a must.