Bale wrapping is one method of hay storage and production that has been gaining attention over the past decade. The potential of having better time management, less storage loss, and higher nutritional value in feed has had many wondering, would a bale wrapper be a worthwhile investment for their farm? We want to dive into the statistics and benefits that come from wrapped bales but also offer a little insight into the sustainability and costs that may come with it. Bale wrapping could be beneficial for both your livestock and finances.
Wrapping can save you time and product
Being able to wrap your bales could save you the time you need to get an extra cutting of hay each year. Most individuals who wrapped their bales in a one-day hay operation noted that they had up to 28 more growing days. This kind of time management could lead to 1 or 2 more cuttings.
Most experts will tell you that after you have net-wrapped your bales, you’ll get the best quality results from your hay if they are wrapped in plastic within 24 hours of netting. Some farmers have even stated they prefer to wrap them in 2 hours for optimal preservation and to avoid weather mishaps.
This kind of bale operation can be planned and executed in only a few days. The bales can be cut in the morning and wrapped wet or dry that same afternoon. For the best fermentation conditions, we recommend that the bales are wrapped at moisture levels of 45%-55%. Then, after the hay has been wrapped and rested for at least a 12-hour period, you can transport those bales to a well-drained spot with year-round access. You can leave the bales there and they’ll stay well-preserved while tightly wrapped through the rainy and snowy seasons.
It should be noted that nature is unpredictable, and sometimes small animals have been known to like gnawing at bale wrap. If you keep your bales away from trees, you’re less likely to encounter infestations by wildlife. Check on your bales regularly to make sure rodents and birds haven’t tried to tear away the plastic and exposed your bales to the elements. Once a bale has been opened, it can experience up to 30% loss in just 8 months. The last thing you want to do is counter your efforts to increase your storage.
Wrapped bales reduce digestion issues and increase “shelf life”
Studies have shown that wrapping your bales can keep you from losing higher amounts of total digestible nutrients. There are specific conditions that make protein and nutrient-dense bales possible. Unlike normal hay production, you want to bale your hay and wrap it at moisture levels of 45% or up to 55%. You’ll give your hay the opportunity to properly ferment and be the most palatable for your animals. These bales will stay in good condition in the wrap for up to a year and they’ll also be protected from the sun. This allows sun-sensitive vitamins (Such as Vitamin A) to stay in your feed and lower the chances of bloating in your cattle.
What if you weren’t able to bale and wrap the hay at that specific moisture range? The difference in results will be rather significant, but the hay will be salvageable under different handling methods. You’ll want to have the hay that was wrapped at a moisture level under 45% to be fed within 6 months of baling. Anything above 55% should be fed within 3 months.
Sustainability and economics
Do you think baling could be an overall advantage for your farm? If you’re beginning the baling process from scratch, we would definitely recommend investing in a bale wrapper. You could save up to 50% on the cost of starting a wrapping operation in comparison to purchasing choppers, wagons, and storage facilities. Not only that, the protein and nutrients that can be retained in wrapped bales can save you money by reducing the purchase of feed supplements.
So what factors should you be comparing if you aren’t starting the baling process from scratch? You will want to calculate your current storage loss vs. the costs of purchasing a bale wrapper and the plastic you’ll need per bale. Typically, a wrapped bale should have 6 layers of wrap to ensure the hay is protected. Once you’ve got those costs in mind, you can begin to estimate if the reduction of storage loss through wrapping will outweigh the costs for a wrapper and the plastic needed. If you’d like a deeper look into the financial effects of baling your own hay, you can take a look at our research in “Does it Pay to Make My Own Bales?”
We hope this breakdown gives you a clearer insight into the benefits of bale wrapping, and how it might be beneficial for your farm.
Our sources and where you can learn more:
OSU Brown County article – “Making High Quality Baleage”
MSU article – “Wrapping dry hay”
University of Minnesota article – “Wrapping hay”
Makin’ Hay – “The Growing Trend of High-Moisture Baling and Wrapping”