Does Baling High-Moisture Hay Make Good Financial Sense?

More and more cattle and dairy farmers are baling high-moisture hay. While it is easy to jump on this bandwagon, it is important to realize that every operation is different and therefore this method is not best for every operation.

So how do you know if this method will successfully contribute to your operation? The first thing is to determine whether or not it will decrease field and storage losses while improving animal performance.

Here are some specific reasons why you might want to consider baling high-moisture hay:

  • When the extra cost required to bale high-moisture hay can be offset by reduced hay loss during harvesting, storage and handling. Keep in mind that dry bales stored outside can experience losses of up to 30 percent in about nine months.
  • Wrapping high-moisture bales provides your cattle with the best-quality, high-protein feed value.
  • High-moisture hay tastes better. Cows refusing to eat dry hay can mean up to 20 percent greater hay losses.
  • High-moisture baleage leads to less shrinkage.
  • Baling high-moisture forage allows you to harvest earlier and avoid damaging weather. It also improves yields in later cuttings. Waiting just five days to bale hay can lead to a 30 percent yield reduction. Therefore, during wet and humid weather, wrapping high-moisture bales is a good option.
  • Bale wrapping eliminates the significant cost of investing in precision choppers, wagons and storage facilities. All that is really necessary is a baler designed for high-moisture forage.

The greatest investment when bailing and wrapping high-moisture hay is the cost of the wrapper. Depending on the type of wrapper, you are looking at spending roughly $10,000 to $25,000. If your operation requires more than 500 bales per year, you may want to invest in an inline wrapper. Those can cost up to $45,000.

Finally, it is critical that you wrap your hay bales correctly. Here are some quick tips to make sure you do just that:

  1. Wrap as soon as possible to reduce the internal bale temperature and prevent aerobic deterioration.
  2. Net-wrap bales for a smoother surface that won’t poke plastic holes in the film.
  3. Take care not to over or under-stress the film so the plastic adheres correctly. Never use wet film.
  4. Use at least six wraps and don’t scrimp on the quality of plastic.
  5. Run wrapped bales running north to south.
  6. Wrap bales close to where you will store them to minimize handling.