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If not shredlage, then what?

Jon Urness Published on 01 July 2013

Shredlage, shredlage and more shredlage. When it comes to the latest technology in corn silage processing, shredlage has dominated the headlines in the farm papers, has been the focus of producer meetings and a hot topic among dairy producers and custom harvesters alike – and for good reason.

This new approach to processing corn silage, which emphasizes not only the kernel portion of corn silage but also the stover portion, shows a lot of promise.

A number of dairy producers all over the country are singing its praises. Custom harvesters who recognize the potential value to their clients are taking a close look. Others are a bit more cautious because of the added investment and ability to recoup that investment.

In any case, not everyone is going to install a shredlage processing unit on the chopper – nor should they.

We know that not every operator or every machine is performing to its best ability even with the equipment on hand. However, there is room for improvement without spending money on new equipment.

This article will concentrate on optimizing kernel processing, but it is important to recognize that the benefits of shredlage and other emerging technologies are predicated on improved processing of both the kernel and stover portions of corn silage.

The benefit of improved kernel processing is well documented. The benefit of improved stover processing seems logical but is more difficult to prove.

Kernel processing gradually improving
Kernel processing has improved over the past few years. Greater awareness of the relationship between good kernel processing and total tract starch utilization has been discussed in these pages before.

In addition, the increased value of corn and associated starch has forced dairy producers and their nutritionists to scrutinize starch sources more closely.

In 2009, corn silage samples submitted to Dairyland Labs in Arcadia, Wisconsin, showed that 59.6 percent fell in the adequately processed range of 50 to 70 scoring, while 6.8 percent were optimally processed with a score over 70. About one-third (33.6 percent) were underprocessed.

By 2012, 60.6 percent of the samples were deemed adequately processed and 18.4 percent were optimally processed.

Underprocessed corn silage accounted for 21 percent of the samples. At face value, these numbers indicate great improvement, but the growing and harvesting seasons reflected in this data can have a great influence. It is fair to say, however, that kernel processing scores are improving.

Results brand-specific?
What factors influence the resulting kernel processing score? Some operators will insist that the brand of equipment used will determine the result.

But controlled studies are difficult to obtain, and most information is simply anecdotal. U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc., a support organization for custom harvesters, has helped sponsor a controlled study in cooperation with the University of California – Davis over the past three seasons to literally put all four brands of choppers on a level playing field.

Various performance factors were measured including fuel efficiency, length of cut, throughput and kernel processing score.

The study has been repeated three years in a row, and in terms of kernel processing, the results have been different three years in a row. That would lead to the conclusion that the operator or human factor often has the greatest influence on kernel processing results.

Attention to detail
In a survey conducted by Vita Plus Corporation staff looking at nearly 150 silage samples, Jason Brandt, a custom harvester from Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, has consistently topped the survey and achieved optimally processed results, often scoring in the high 70s and even 80s.

Roll out the processing unit
Chris Wacek-Driver, forage products manager at Vita Plus, would concur with Jason’s comments.

Last summer, she conducted a field survey of over 30 custom harvesters and learned that the common denominators among harvesters consistently achieving high kernel processing scores were constant observation and measurement.

“In this survey, the one practical piece of advice was to regularly roll out the processor and physically measure the actual roll gap with feeler gauges.

The personnel that took the time to do this, rather than relying on the predicted reading on the cab screen, regularly recorded the highest kernel processing scores,” she claims.

“While getting desired fiber particle size and optimal kernel processing is not an easy task, there are people out there obtaining both with current kernel processors regardless of brand.

These people know how to use existing technology and, perhaps more importantly, know the costs. Better design, testing, processes and technology can get us there.

However, if one thing was learned from this field survey, it was this: While new technology and innovation may help us move forward toward a targeted goal, it does not come without knowledge and management of that technology.”  FG

0613fg_urness_1Jason Brandt
J&A Forage Services, LLC
Mount Joy, Pennsylvania

Having good equipment is important to Brandt, but beyond that, he keeps a close eye on the condition of that equipment and how it’s performing.

Here’s what he recommends at the beginning of the season and throughout the season:

• Check the condition of the rolls (Are the teeth still sharp or worn?)

• Check the condition of the belts (Are they in good shape or show signs of slippage or wear?)

• Check the condition of the processor springs (Are they holding the rolls together properly?)

• Know the roll gap (Measure at the rolls; don’t rely on what’s indicated in the cab.)

“Once a day, either myself or one of the crew will check loads to make sure the processor is still set properly for the conditions we’re in. Everybody on my team knows what the customer and I are looking for.

“Once in a while, I’ll take a bucket of water and dump a couple of handfuls of fresh silage in to separate the kernels from the stover.

That way we can more closely look at what kind of a job we are doing,” Brandt explains. “I think just being conscious about what changes are happening … moisture and variety, for example, then making changes to the processor where needed, is key.

I do believe when we get into dual purpose or grain corn, it becomes harder to do a good job.”

Brandt has also experimented with increasing the speed differential of the processing rolls and believes that change alone has made a huge difference in improving kernel processing.

He cautions that overprocessing can negatively impact length of cut and result in a poor analysis in a Penn State shaker box with too many fine particles.

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Jon Urness
Nutritionist
Vita Plus Corp.


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