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Kernel processors more important than ever

Oct. 24, 2013 | 0 comments

 

WAUNAKEE

Shredlage" - a trademarked name for a kind of corn silage that’s made with patented rolls that tear as well as cut the corn as it goes through the chopper - has taken Wisconsin by storm.

Randy Shaver, professor of dairy science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said this special kind of corn silage first hit the scene four years ago and at that time there were three Claas choppers equipped with the modified rolls to produce it.

The next year there were 11 Claas choppers equipped to make "Shredlage™ and by the third year there were 49 Claas choppers equipped for it. Now in the fourth year there are more than 300 Claas choppers modified to make it.

Shaver said there are now also kits available for New Holland, Krone and John Deere choppers.

That’s a pretty remarkable growth pattern," he said at a recent field day.

He estimated that about 1 million cows nationwide will be fed the new type of shredded silage this year, based on those numbers and the size of their operations.

That’s not bad for a new kind of processing roll that was pioneered in a farm shop in Viroqua and then moved into commerce by a company that was already making aftermarket rolls for the Claas choppers.

Shaver said that John Deere purchased a company last year called "Kernelstar" in Europe and is offering new processors to farmers from that company.

During the field day, sponsored by Lodi Veterinary Care and hosted at the Endres family’s Berry Ridge Farm near Waunakee, Shaver talked about "Shredlage"™ and also about how farmers can assess the job their kernel processor is doing as they chop silage.

Processing kernels of corn, if done well, can be worth as much as two pounds of milk per cow in the bulk tank or two pounds less corn that has to be fed to cows as part of their ration.

It’s a pretty significant impact," he said. However, the longer any corn silage is allowed to ferment and wait to be fed, the lower that impact becomes. That’s because silage becomes more digestible as it sits in storage.

After nine months of storage that benefit tightens a bit," Shaver added.

The digestibility of the corn in the silage can also depend on the endosperm qualities of the corn variety that is planted. Some corn varieties have a starch that is very hard and difficult to crack; others have a softer quality.

Before choppers were equipped with kernel processors, farmers did their best to finely chop corn silage to get the most out of it, he said. That was okay with lower levels of corn silage in diets.

Research on kernel processors began 15-20 years ago but Shaver said farmers didn’t pay a lot of attention to it until the price of corn skyrocketed a few years ago, when saving the starch and reducing corn inputs became a high priority.

Today research is centering on length of cut and kernel processing, which go together, he said and how the feeding of various lengths and types of silage affects milk production in dairy cows.

In one study, rolls in the chopper were opened to 5-6 millimeters. "You might as well not have them at that point."

A roll gap of 1-3 mm seems to be pretty important, he added.

 

CHECK SILAGE

This year the UW forage team put together an easy way for farmers to make sure their kernel processor is doing its job. A tub is filled with fresh silage material and then the tub is watered down.

The fibrous, wet material floats to the top and is pulled out of the tub by hand and then the rest of the water is carefully drained away to leave the kernel portion behind. That allows the farmer to look at the kernels and decide if they are processed enough to be considered good dairy feed.

Look at the grain and see how many coarse fragments are left."

Information on this method is available at this website: www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/uwforage/kernelprocessing-FOF.pdf.

When it comes to Shredlage™ the optimum setting seems to be 26 mm theoretical length of cut and a 2 ½ mm roll gap, Shaver said.

The rolls that are designed to produce this more torn kind of silage have more cross-grooving and produce more sheared and torn particles.

One of the research trials Shaver is conducting involves Shredlage™ made from brown midrib (BMR) corn compared to the same kind of corn silage made with conventional heads on the chopper.

The plan for the research is to feed the two kinds of silage to 128 dairy cows equipped with rumination collars.

Shaver said so far there has been no indication from farmers making the new shredded silage that there are any new problems with packing or storing it. "The best I can say is that it’s packing just as well as conventional corn silage. If there were horror stories we would have heard them by now."

In his experiments with it and in talking to farmers who have harvested it and fed it to their cows Shaver hasn’t heard much complaint about cows sorting the longer material either.

 

SAMPLE MANURE

As farmers begin to feed either kind of silage - as well as their high moisture corn - Shaver suggested they take samples of their cows’ manure to test for starch levels.

As silage and high moisture corn sit in storage, they will increase in digestibility over time.

He suggested grabbing samples from 10 cows in the high group, combine them into one sample and send it to any of the major forage testing labs in the state. They can provide information on the amount of starch that is just passing through the cows and being wasted in the manure.

A value of 1-3 percent starch is "about as good as it gets" says Shaver. If it gets too high - and he’s seen fecal starch samples as high as 20 percent - cows are wasting a lot of starch that they could be making into milk.

Shaver recommended that such a starch test should be run on a dairy herd monthly to keep track of how much starch is being utilized by the cows.

If these fecal starch percentages are too high - over 5 percent - it’s important to evaluate specific feedstuffs. Shaver said the fecal starch test can be used to predict total tract starch digestibility using equations.

More information on that is available at www.uwex.edu/ces/dairynutrition.

Corn silage becomes more digestible as it ferments and plateaus at about eight-nine months of storage. The biggest change in the silage occurs between 30 days and six months in storage, with a bit more digestibility gained up to nine months.

It depends a little on conditions though," he said. "Corn silage that was harvested and put in the bag last week when it was in the 70s will start to ferment quickly. In some areas of central Wisconsin we will have freezing condition when it’s chopped and that fermentation may not begin until spring. It’s kind of a moving target."

More information on Shredlage™ is available at www.shredlage.com.

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