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Placing Bales into Forage

20 July 2023

This article is produced as a part of the FAS Crops & Soils Bulletin. Subscribe now to receive the full report in your inbox monthly.

There are numerous outwintering systems for livestock, which can offer benefits such as reducing the housing period, reducing costs associated with housing e.g. bedding and machinery.  Some options such as forage and catch crop give benefits such as, a break crop for pasture rejuvenation or fertility building in arable soils.   

Outwintering systems require supplementary forage to be supplied to the animals in the form of silage, hay or straw.  It is advised that animals nutrition from forage crops makes up a total of 70% of their dry matter intake, with the remaining 30% coming from supplementary forage.   

To eliminate heavy machinery in fields in wet winter conditions, it is possible to place bales of wrapped forage into the field in the summer and autumn.  These can then be unwrapped and fed as required throughout the winter. 

To enhance utilisation of the forage, daily breaks are allocated, meaning the electric fence is moved daily calculated on the animal requirements and yield of the crop/forage.  When the bales are being placed into the field, they should be sited on the edge to align with the daily breaks allocated to the animals.   Ensuring that they are not placed in an area that could damage the land, e.g. the bottom of a slope.  

To understand how many bales should be placed into the field, a simple calculation can be prepared, as follows. 

75kg dry ewe
ACalculate animal requirement

(animal weight x predicted feed intake*)
1.5kg DM (dry matter)
BDaily requirement from supplementary forage is 30%

(A x 30%)
0.45 kg DM
CEstimated wastage 15% (B x 1.15)0.51kg DM
DWeight of bale650kg
EDry matter of bale (from analysis)26%
FDry matter available in 1 bale (D x E/100)169kg DM
GNumber of animals fed per bale (F/C)331 ewes per day

*predicted feed intake = dry breeding animals 2% of body weight, finishing and replacement cattle 2.5% of body weight, growing cattle and ewes lactating 3% of body weight and growing lambs 4% of body weight 

Bales can be fed using a ring feeder in the field, these can be placed over the top of the bale once it is unwrapped. 

Outwintering systems must be planned to ensure animals have access to the correct nutrition for their production cycle, as well as key animal health and welfare attributes being met e.g., a suitable environment, shelter, water, etc.  A plan for adverse weather should be made when operating outwintering systems to ensure the animals welfare is not compromised. 

Kirsten Williams, SAC Consulting, Senior Sheep and Beef Consultant   

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