Another strategy that is useful when drying time is limited is to consider the option of baleage. Baleage involves harvest when the cut forage has wilted but is still high in moisture; in the 45 to 60% moisture range or 40 to 55% dry matter. In order for this to be successful the forage must be baled and wrapped in plastic to create an anaerobic environment where an ensiling process can occur. Anaerobic microorganisms will ferment some of the forage carbohydrates to lactic acid which inhibits the growth of forage spoiling organisms and preserves the quality of the forage. Key factors to baleage production include baling at an optimum moisture of 50%, making tight bales to exclude oxygen pockets, wrapping the bales in plastic within 12 hours of baling (immediately after baling is best) and providing enough plastic thickness to keep out air and provide an anaerobic environment. In general, at least 4 wraps of 1.5 mil plastic is recommended.
Throughout this article moisture content has been mentioned numerous times as an important factor in hay production. Certainly years of experience are useful in gauging forage moisture but if you really need to know forage moisture the microwave oven method is still one of the quickest, least expensive and easiest methods available. It involves grabbing a representative forage sample and chopping or cutting it into short lengths of less than 1 inch. Next weigh out100 to 200 grams (3.5 to 7.0 ounces) and spread it out in a microwave safe plate. Heat the sample for a minute and re-weigh. Shake and re-distribute the sample on the plate and heat for another 45 seconds to one minute. Repeat this heating and re-weighing process until the sample stabilizes and does not decrease in weight between cycles. Be careful as you approach the end point to avoid charring or burning the sample and adjust heating times accordingly. The moisture content is equal to the beginning weight minus the end weight divided by the beginning weight. A fact sheet on this method is available under this link.