The pros and cons of round bale silage

Round bale silage, like any storage method, has its strengths and weaknesses. As a low-cost storage unit for long-stem grasses or legumes, it can be a benefit for any size farmer. The needed storage capacity can be supplied by round bales when silo capacity is lacking during times of forage surplus. The bales can be placed in convenient locations around the farm to provide small feeding units for planned consumption time. In addition, large round bale silage can provide more precise allocation of forages, based on quality, to different animals than can be achieved with either upright or bunk type silos. However, the storage cost per ton of forage is greater than for a permanent storage structure that will be filled twice each year. Disposal of the used plastic wrap or bag is also an environmental concern.

Another advantage is shortened harvesting time, because the cut crop needs to wilt only a few hours before baling. Anticipated rainstorms or high-humidity conditions are a constant risk when working with hay in certain parts of the country but are less of a problem with silage. The 50%-60% moisture content at baling reduces leaf loss during harvest, which results in a higher-quality protein source than field-cured hay. Ensiling does not, however, improve forage quality. The general adage of "garbage in-garbage out" is certainly true with ensiled forage, regardless of the storage structure.

Making and feeding the silage bales are labor-efficient processes. One person can complete the steps involved in making round bale silage if adequate equipment is available. However, without a well-designed feeder, feeding and trampling losses are comparable to, or greater than, hay losses. Assuring tight bale seals is of utmost importance because uncontrollable air leaks can result in varied feed value, mold growth, and excessive spoilage losses.

Type and Maturity of Forage

Many different species of forage have been used to make large round bale silage, including alfalfa, red clover, perennial grasses, oats, sorghum-sudangrass hybrids and mixes of grasses and legumes. All of these forages can make good silage, provided the forage has sufficient fermentable carbohydrates. To optimize carbohydrate levels, forages must be cut at the proper stage of maturity and wilted to 50%-60% moisture content.

To obtain the highest yields of high-quality feed while maintaining a productive stand, forage crops should be cut at the following stages:

Bale Feeding

Feeding round bales of silage is similar to feeding large round bales of hay when conventional bale feeding rings can be used. With the high investment for wrapping bales, it is essential to control feeding losses. Some studies have shown up to 50% loss when large round silage bales are simply unrolled on the ground. This loss can be reduced to less than 10% by using a simple ring feeder.

The feed quality of large round bale silage, especially those bales with a high proportion of legumes, may cause overfeeding to some animals. Consider using the bales with high proportion of legume for classes of animals that require high-quality forage and restrict the amount of bales available at any time.

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