The horror of drought lives in the memory of anyone who had to buy silage - when prices quadruple without any question about feed quality.  

If you need to buy silage and balage (or haylage) to get through next winter, then be aware of some important points.  The first is to know how much you will need, to get through both a dry summer and the winter.  This needs some very serious feed budgeting done now, so if you need to buy supplements, you are not trading on a crazy market.  Getting rid of all surplus stock early that is not earning their keep is a very important part of a budget. 

Then you need to understand feed quality.  A good silage must be above 20% dry matter (nearer 25%), around 18-20% protein and have an energy (ME) value of at least 10.  You would be unwise to buy silage without knowing these figures that can easily and quickly be obtained from a feed analysis laboratory through your vet clinic.  If you can easily squeeze water out of a handful of the silage, then it's far too wet.

Silage is really pickled grass and a good sample from an acetic acid fermentation will be yellow or green-brown in colour and have a sweet smell and a firm texture.  A bad silage from a butyric acid fermentation will be olive green with a putrid smell and be soft and slimy.  Really rotten silage is green-black like tobacco, is dry, has a burned caramel smell and may show white mould.  This is compost so never feed it to livestock because of the risk of digestive upsets and abortions".

Be careful about what is described as balage or haylage. This is nearer 40% dry matter with protein around 12% and ME (Energy Value) of 8-9.  The problem is to know why it was made because it could have been from a paddock saved for silage that got too mature, or it was hay that got wet and was wrapped and called balage.  Whatever it was, it will be very stalky and have very variable feeding value.  These stalks are always at risk of puncturing the wrap so watch out for that.

You should ask the vendor to open a bale so you can inspect deep inside it, and if in doubt, take a sample away for analysis.  A good vendor may even have an analysis available.  Have a very careful inspection of the wrapping to check for rips and holes or any that may have been repaired too long after they occurred. Even tiny holes will let air in and cause wastage and mould. Don't buy bales that have had two or more layers stacked on top of them as they may have splits in the wrap.

You don't want to end up with brightly coloured silage bales that will adorn your property for years, as they are not fit to feed to stock.  They'll be very expensive compost and ugly paddock ornaments.