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Farmers can test their hay balage for peace of mind

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We are getting close to hay harvesting season, particularly for those farmers who make plastic wrapped round bales or “balage.” Dr. Michelle Arnold, UK Extension Veterinarian and Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, UK Extension beef specialists, sent a note reminding producers of the risks from improperly preserved balage.
Forage cut at the correct stage of maturity, allowed to wilt to a 40 to 60 percent moisture range, then baled and wrapped will undergo fermentation, a process that drops the pH of the feed below 4.5 where spoilage organisms (especially bacteria from the Clostridial family) will not grow. Problems arise when there is a lack of adequate fermentation to reach this low pH, which occurs most often with small grains (rye, oats, wheat, barley).
Wet, non-wilted, and/or overly mature forages have less soluble sugars available for completion of fermentation. Clostridials thrive in wet environments where forage moistures are in the higher 67 to 70 percent range. Moisture above 70 percent almost guarantees Clostridial activity. Baled silage is also more likely to spoil as compared to silage in traditional silos because of aerobic degradation of the carbohydrate due to delayed wrapping, poor moisture management, and damage to the plastic covering, resulting in the harmful introduction of oxygen.
Botulism is a disease caused by one of the most potent toxins known to man.  This toxin is produced by Clostridium botulinum. These spores are found everywhere in the soil and contaminate plant material during harvest. In the absence of oxygen (as is found in wrapped hay) and a pH greater than 4.5 (poor fermentation), the spores enter a vegetative state, multiply and produce toxin.
Prevention is based on ensuring proper harvest and preservation of wrapped forages to reduce the risk of botulism in cattle. Correct moisture content and maturity of the forage are of primary importance. Also, achieving the highest bale density possible gets the maximum reduction of oxygen with few air pockets.
Wrapping the bales as soon as possible with a good quality plastic and using multiple layers will extend the storage time. If holes appear during storage, these should be covered immediately with tape. Store the wrapped bales on a north facing slope if available because prolonged exposure to the summer sun may cause the upper side and the south face of the bale to dry out, with the moisture condensing on the bottom or north face of the bale. A well-managed bale could end up developing a Clostridial prone pocket in dried out areas of the bale.
If you think you may have a potential problem with balage, samples can be submitted to a forage laboratory and a fermentation profile requested. This will often include a pH and volatile fatty acid profile. This is a common practice for corn silage and one should consider this with fermented forages of all types.
It is important to remember that thousands of round bales are wrapped annually with only a few cases of botulism occurring; the risk of disease is low if one applies the proper management from time of harvest through feeding. For peace of mind, however, a few dollars spent on testing can reduce the worry of an outbreak that can decimate your cattle herd.

Container gardening class
For homeowners or renters with limited space for growing a garden, container gardening can be an excellent option for growing nutritious, home-grown fruits and vegetables. Even if you have space in the yard for a garden but don’t like weeding or digging up your lawn, container gardening may be of interest. Growing a garden in five or six good size containers can produce well over $150 worth of produce for your family. By having the containers conveniently located near the house or apartment maintaining the garden is easy.
We will be holding a series of container gardening classes this year to guide participants through the entire season of container gardening. Participants will meet once a month for six months beginning May 1 and ending in October. Each class will consist of two parts, the first being management of the garden and the second being how to cook or preserve the produce grown in the garden. All materials including containers, soil, seeds and plants will be provided.
We will have a container garden at the office with the same items class participants will be given, so participants can see how to plant, maintain or harvest their home gardens. As particular varieties mature and are harvested through the year, replacement seeds or plants will be provided to maximize yields across all of the seasons.
There is a $30 registration fee for the classes, which includes all materials for all six sessions. If you are interested in the classes please register and pay your fee at the Marion County Extension Office by April 28. For more information call 270-692-2421.
There will be a final Farmer’s Market Meeting prior to the start of the selling season today, April 23, at 10:30 a.m. at the Marion County Extension Office. Farmer’s interested in selling at the market this year can sign up at the meeting or come by the extension office at any time. Dues for the association this year are $50 if paid before May 1 and $60 thereafter. If not a full member, farmers may sell at the market by paying a $10 weekly fee (I mistakenly had annual fee in last week’s edition. My apologies). The hours for the market this year will be Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., beginning Saturday, May 10.
Marion County Cattlemen’s Association will meet Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. The meeting will be at the extension office. Please call the extension office at 270-692-2421 if you plan to attend.
The Marion County Cooperative Extension Council will meet on Wednesday April 30, at the Marion County Extension Office. The purpose of the extension council is to review educational programming presented by the extension office and to make recommendations for changes or for new programming. If you are interested in attending please call the extension office.
We will be celebrating the 100-year anniversary of extension with an open house at the extension office on Thursday, May 8. The open house will run from 4-7 p.m. and hamburgers and hotdogs will be served. Come learn about the history of extension and the programs we offer to Marion County residents.
Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.