Tips for making hay during fall’s cool, damp weather

Fall is less than an ideal time for putting up forage, so the goal should be to salvage what 
can be salvaged and feed it quickly

Time is of the essence when putting up forage under less-than-ideal moisture conditions.

“Cool and wet fall weather is great for pasture recovery and for easing forages into dormancy, but not so good for drying hay,” says Linda Hunt, forage specialist with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre in Stettler.

“It’s not uncommon for fall conditions in the central and northern areas of the province to be too cool and wet to allow the swath to get down to the ideal 15 to 18 per cent moisture. So what do you do when your second cut is on the ground and it is too dry to silage but too wet for hay?”

The short answer is to salvage what can be salvaged and feed it quickly.

“The big advantage we have in Canada is the cool fall temperatures give us some grace to bale forage up tough and still come out OK,” says Hunt.

“It’s sort of like storing your salad in the fridge rather than on the counter. The cooler temperatures can slow down the rate of spoilage giving you a chance to get the forage fed while there is still value. It’s definitely not the ideal situation, and is highly dependent on the weather, but it is a useful strategy when snow is in the forecast.”

Forage baled between 18 to 35 per cent is highly variable and unpredictable so should be fed first and with caution, advises Hunt.

“Wet, warm bales provide an ideal habitat for bacteria and mould growth, and it is the activity of the mould and bacteria that causes the bales to heat. Protein in bales that reach 50 C or higher lose their value as the protein is converted to a form that is unavailable to livestock. The cool fall temperatures reduce the amount of heat produced in the bale by slowing down the activity of the bacteria and mould, as well as cooling the bales faster and keeping them from reaching the critical 50 C.”

So use the assets that living in a northern climate provide, says Hunt.

Colleague Ken Ziegler suggests “only putting 900 pounds of feed into the space of a 1,200-pound bale. When the bale is popped out of the baler, you will be able to slip your hand into the side of the bale quite far and quite easily compared to a tightly made bale. This allows the moisture to exit easier and the heat to dissipate.”

Line bales up in north-south rows to minimize the exposure to the sun, says Hunt, and increase the surface area exposed to the westerly fall winds.

“Leave a four- to six-inch gap between bales within the row, and space the rows far apart to increase circulation and enhance cooling. Keep wet bales out of doors for the best circulation and at the front of the stack where they can be accessed and fed first.”

Wrapping bales can also be an option.

“Ideally, bales should be in the 35 to 50 per cent range to ensure they ensile. If you have lower than 35 per cent moisture it can be difficult to remove the oxygen and spoilage is common. Again, the cool temperatures we have in the fall and winter slow down the rate of spoilage buying time to get the bales fed.”

For more information on making quality bale silage, go to foragebeef.ca.

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