Preserving Quality Forage with Baleage

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Baleage stored near pastures.

Baleage may be a good option for early excess forage acres.
Photo by Erika Lundy.


AMES, Iowa – With grass slow to come this spring, it is likely that forage quality will rapidly change this summer. As a general rule of thumb, energy values (total digestible nutrients or TDN) of forages, pasture included, can decrease rapidly at a rate of 0.33-1.0% per day from vegetative to mature stage. To preserve forage quality, harvesting excess forage acres now can be beneficial for later feeding.

The primary factor that influences quality of harvested forages is weather. In many instances, a wet spring delays first cutting harvest and reduces the window of opportunity for optimal drying days, resulting in mature hay that has reduced feed quality and palatability to beef cows. If hay wasn’t put up under the proper conditions, both storage and feeding losses will increase.

To address some of the challenges associated with first cutting forage crops, many producers have turned towards harvesting forages as a baleage. While baleage production offers several advantages, it is an expensive investment and can result in poor return on investment if not done right.

Some considerations with baleage include proper timing of harvesting and storing of the forage. Target bales to be 50%-60% moisture. Generally, most baleage can be made within 24 hours of cutting and will need to be wrapped within 12 hours of baling. Like corn silage, baleage put up too dry will slow fermentation and result in unwanted bacterial growth, mold, or heat damage. If put up too wet, a cold fermentation may occur leading to “stinky” baleage from the presence of butyric acid along with the degradation of proteins into some unfavorable metabolites and a slimy texture. These unwanted consequences will likely lead to compromised feed intake, reduced nutrient quality, and in some situations, animal health issues.

Because plant sugar is a requirement for ensiling, utilizing good quality standing forage is best. Forage that has been rained on after cutting, as well as excessively mature standing forage will not optimize the ensiling process. In addition, bale weight and forage density should be considered. Oxygen is the enemy when it comes to ensiling and too “loose” of a bale can lead to mold among other problems. Thus, the tighter the bale the better. A minimum of 30 days in needed for the bales to fully ensile.

For more information on baleage considerations and what is best for your operation, consult with your beef extension specialist and see “Making the Switch to Baleage” IBCR 202



The Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It comprises faculty and staff from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about IBC, visit

Erika Lundy, ISU Extension and Outreach beef specialist, 641-745-5902,
Garland Dahlke, Iowa Beef Center, 515-294-9910,
Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center, 515-294-1058,


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