Tag: haylage

Scissors Cut Report 5/24/2018

Mow, Mow as Fast as You Can

Hay has continued to grow rapidly this week and grass fields are at target NDF.  Legume/grass stands have also reached their target NDF as of this sampling.  Harvest of grass and mixed stands should progress as rapidly as possible.  Legume fields are 5 to 7 days away from target NDF.

Grasses and legumes grew an average of 7 inches this week and increased by an average of 1 point of NDF per day this past week.  NDF digestibility is still above 70%, but as grasses mature digestibility decreases rapidly as stem elongation advances.  We recommend pausing corn planting and completing harvest of core acres as soon as possible.

Table 1 has each sample location, listed by Town and elevation, and lists the species sampled, average height, and neutral detergent fiber (aNDFom).  NDF is the best predictor for forage harvest timing, we recommend harvest of grasses starting about 50% NDF and Alfalfa about 40% NDF, with mixed stands between 40 and 50 based on the alfalfa content.

We have included 24 hour Neutral Detergent Fiber Digestibility (NDFD), a measure of how quickly and completely forage can be digested in a cow’s rumen, larger numbers are better.  Also is a column for un-digestible fiber (uNDF240), is correlated with how much of a forage a cow can eat, determining dry matter intake potential. Lower uNDF240 is better.

Haylage in a Day

As is often the case, we had a one day weather window this week, and several farms were able to take advantage and get a field or two done.  The key is mowing in a wide swath (80% + of mower width if possible), even tedding after a couple hours of drying.  Rapid dry down preserves more sugar in the forage aiding in better fermentation and more digestible nutrients.  More days available for harvest and more nutrients per pound of forage are a winning combination.  Click here for a web page with a good description of the concept.

A timely first cut is the essential first step to an adequate inventory of high quality feed.  It’s our goal to provide this weekly crop progress report to support you in planning for a successful hay harvest season.

Click Delaware County Scissor Cut 5_24_18 for a printable pdf of this report.

Signs of Clostridial Fermentation in Baleage Part I

It’s the wee hours of the morning and it’s time to feed the cows. You head on out to the skid steer and retrieve a bale of baleage. You’re now at the manger/TMR mixer and slice the bale open…. a rancid, putrid smell looms as the plastic is sliced away. You normally can’t miss the rancid smell but on this day your sinuses are quite full and you don’t detect the odor. As you slice through the baler twine the baleage has a tacky, sticky feel to it with some discoloration in the forage that’s not the norm but the light is dim as it’s the early hours of the morning and your gloves keep the sticky feel and rancid smell from your hands. You roll the bale on out and the cows go to town.

The following morning you retrace your same routine as you have everyday prior and head out to begin feeding the cows. As you pull up to the manger you notice a few cows are off. They seem uncomfortable. No cud chewing, no ambition to eat. Then you see that one of the cows has passed on to the green acres in the sky…

This is a farmers worse nightmare. A barn full of ill animals and only time and treatment will determine the outcome. The cause is an abnormal fermentation that took place during the harvesting/storage phase of the forage. Let’s start with what is “normal”. Normal fermentation takes place when anaerobic bacteria (those that live without air) convert sugars in the forage to lactic acid which in turn lowers the pH and preserves the forage as silage, with full fermentation completed within 6-8 weeks. This fermentation process is known as lactate fermentation.

One of the “abnormal fermentations” that could take place is clostridial fermentation resulting in botulism. Botulism is a disease caused by one of the most potent toxins known to man. This toxin is produced by Clostridium botulinum, a spore-forming anaerobic Gram positive rod. These spores are found everywhere in the soil and contaminate baleage during harvest, often by raking up dirt into the forage. In the absence of oxygen (as is found in wrapped hay ie: baleage) and a pH greater than 4.5 (poor fermentation), the spores enter a vegetative state, multiply and produce toxin.

There are seven types of botulinum toxins. Types A, B, E and F can infect humans. Types C and D are found in poultry, wild birds, mink and their excrement. Type E is related to fish and avian. In instances where an outbreak of a known strain of botulism is suspected, an antiserum can be used for treatment, but oftentimes it’s just too late. Even miniscule amounts of the botulinum toxin can decimate a barn full of livestock. It is not uncommon to read about situations where hundreds of cattle and horses have died within hours of eating contaminated feed. In fact, if you have ever heard the rumor that baleage is not safe to feed to horses, it’s probably because of this reason as horses tend to be much more sensitive to the botulism toxin.


Clostridial fermentation can wreck havoc if fed to your livestock. It’s not worth taking the risk if you believe you may have some questionable baleage. The initial signs that will be noticed out on the farm of a clostridial fermentation in baleage will rely on your senses and experience. First is the smell. The bale will have an odor far from pleasant. It may smell “fishy” or “spoiled” . It will not be a pleasant smell. Second is touch. As you handle the baleage it will have a tacky, sticky or slimy feel to it. Again the odor will definitely permeate your clothing and skin. Last is sight, often but not always a clostridial fermentation will change the color of the baleage to a black, dark green/black or dark brown/green.

If there is any question in your mind if the baleage properly fermented hold off on that bale and retrieve a bale that doesn’t contain these characteristics. It’s not worth taking the risk of possibly creating a barn of sick or dead animals.

Call one of our extension agents to come on out and take a sample to be sent off for a fermentation analysis. We will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have. You can also email me @ [email protected]

This blog post is first in a series. There will be follow up posts getting more in-depth on types and causes of clostridial fermentation, diagnosis of abnormal fermentation and the particular consequences it may have on livestock health once consumed and how to avoid this fermentation in the future.

Can’t wait and want to learn more now? Below you will find some helpful links: