Harvester and Producer Panel: Shredlage Experience From the Field

Posted on February 22, 2013 in Forage Foundations


Photo: (left to right) Bruce Dankers, Dankers Enterprises, Inc., Chuck Fahey, Prairieland Dairy, LLC, and Aaron Kutz, Kutz Dairy, LLC

Harvesting corn as Shredlage™ is so new that there hasn’t been time for a lot of research to be conducted. Dr. Randy Shaver, with the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has done a few trials, but said, “We’re going to learn a lot more from the school of hard knocks.”

In 2012, approximately 50 choppers in the country were equipped for Shredlage. Three of those harvesters shared their experiences at the Vita Plus Custom Harvester Meeting.

Bruce Dankers, Dankers Enterprises, Inc.
Bruce Dankers operates Dankers Enterprises, Inc., a custom pumping and chopping company in Goodhue, Minnesota. He started with custom manure hauling in 1989 and later added custom harvesting as a means to retain his workforce.

Dankers Enterprises services more than 200 farmers in an 80-mile radius. It hauls more than 400 million gallons of manure annually; chops 4,200 acres of hay, merges 7,100 acres; and chops nearly 3,000 acres of corn.

Dankers’ son, Bryce, became a partner in the business in 2010 in addition to attending college for business management. Together they employ 32 people.

Their equipment fleet contains two Claas choppers, seven Meyer wagons, three Oxbo mergers, two baggers and three blade tractors. Plus, they have another fleet of equipment for manure handling.

On average, they can chop 250 acres of hay and 100 acres of corn per day per machine.

Dankers started using a Shredlage processor at the request of one of his customers. He decided it would help him stay on the leading edge and installed one in both choppers. Since it would help to attract more customers, he opted to leave his custom rate the same.

Having the same rate helped as many were skeptical in the first year, but now that they’ve seen the benefits from it, Dankers said he could charge extra for it.

As to cut length, he said it varies from farm to farm, based on his customers’ preferences.

Chuck Fahey, Prairieland Dairy, LLC
Chuck Fahey farms with his father, Jim, and his brother, Mark, at Prairieland Dairy, LLC in Belleville, Wisconsin.

The dairy was built in 1997 and was milking slightly more than 100 cows at the time. After four expansions, the farm is now home to 1,250 Holstein cows.

To feed the herd, the Faheys own and rent 2,200 acres, which is split 650 alfalfa, 850 corn silage and 700 acres high moisture corn. More than 90 percent is put up as feed. The farm also grows 170 acres of winter rye for heifer feed. This works well with the farm’s nutrient management plan, Fahey said.

The herd is averaging 98 pounds of milk per cow with good components. That average used to be between 92 and 93 pounds. According to Fahey, once they started feeding the Shredlage harvested this year, the herd jumped to 96 pounds and then hit 98 pounds.

Last year was the first year they harvested Shredlage. When their nutritionist brought it up and showed them the results Kutzes were getting (see next panelist), they decided to give it a try.

Economically, they looked at the price of hay and straw and hoped to justify the added cost of the processor by removing those items from the ration.

They used a cut length of 26 mm and Fahey said there haven’t been any sorting issues with the total mixed ration (TMR) fed. They were also able to cut back on straw in the ration by a half-pound per cow.

The farm uses a Claas 940 harvester with an eight-row head. It has a 36-foot trailer, two trucks and a couple of wagons for forage harvesting.

When it comes to fuel consumption, Fahey said he didn’t monitor that closely, but doesn’t think that it used any more fuel than his old system.

He harvests his own forage, but told the audience that if they can provide Shredlage to a dairy in perfect condition, that producer will want them back year after year.

Aaron Kutz, Kutz Dairy, LLC
Kutz Dairy LLC started in 1973 in Jefferson, Wisconsin, by Ron and Pam Kutz. As the farm expanded continuously, a milking parlor and freestall barn were installed in 1994. More freestall barns were added and, in 2000, the farm transitioned from Holsteins to Jerseys. It now milks 1,450 Jersey cows, raises 1,800 youngstock and farms 1,550 acres.

In 2005, the LLC was formed, including Ron and his two sons, Aaron and Allan.

According to Aaron Kutz, the farm uses a 980 Claas harvester with a 12-row head. It also has three semi trucks and trailers, two straight trucks, a John Deere 9220 push tractor, a mechanical front wheel drive pack tractor and two high impact silage rollers.

In 2009, the Kutzes were feeding a little more than a pound of straw in the ration. They found it was getting difficult to source and quite expensive. The next year, their nutritionist brought up the idea of harvesting Shredlage.

They decided to try it, and in August of 2010 they traded in their John Deere chopper for the Claas 980.

Their goals were to get more effective fiber into the ration without adding straw or baled hay. They also wanted more forage on the top screen of shaker box and to do a better job of processing corn kernels. This was in hopes of lowering feed costs and increasing milk production.

The silage season of 2010 started with the Kutzes harvesting 10,000-ton with the regular processor. By mid-September the Shredlage prototype was ready. They removed 12 knives from the chopper and managed to chop 180 ton in eight hours at a 30 mm length.

Over the next few days, there was quite a bit of time spent in the shop, and by day four they were running trials with 40 mm and 35 mm length of cut.

In total, they harvested 3,100 tons of Shredlage, which they began feeding in August of 2011. It had been stored in a residual bunker and they wanted to empty the others first to be available for the next harvest.

As they dug into the bunker, he said the plant was shredded very well, but the kernels were not processed as well as they had hoped. The original unit was not as heavy as it needed to be.

In that first year, Kutz said they learned a heavier frame and springs were needed to process the kernels better, there is no need to cut longer than 30 mm, it does well at tearing the stalks and destroying the cob, it packs better than regular silage, but does leech longer in the bunker.

In a bunker density comparison done in 2011, five samples were taken from each bunker. Shredlage showed a density advantage of 3.5 pounds per cubic foot over conventional corn silage.

In their second year (2011) they decided to target 65 to 63 percent moisture at harvest when the kernels were at ¾ milk line to get more starch in silage.

The processor came to them after chopping in Texas that summer and by the time the Kutzes were finishing harvest, the rolls were plugging because the processor was worn out. That was before the unit was chrome-hardened, Kutz noted.

This year the kernels were processed much better, he said. However, due to weather, some of it was harvested at 60 percent moisture and they saw more sorting with that material.

With 20,000 tons harvested, they began transitioning straw out of the ration. They also removed half of the cottonseed and lowered the corn in the ration. Those changes saved the dairy 14 cents per cow per day. They also saw 5 percent higher NDF digestibility and a greater starch digestibility.

This yielded an annual savings of $74,000. They also noticed a slight increase in butterfat and a milk gain of 1 to 1.5 pounds in first year. “We feel we had healthier cows,” Kutz said.

For the 2012 harvest, they had a new processor that worked extremely well and had no issues with it plugging. “It was almost too easy,” Kutz said.

Looking at shaker box results, the dairy had 14.6 percent on the top screen of its high cow ration in 2012, compared to 2.7 percent in 2010 before Shredlage. For the mid-cow ration it was 22.3 percent on the top screen in 2012, compared to 4.8 percent in 2010.

It was noted that with the processor used in 2010, they could chop the corn at 19 mm.

The farm’s high cow ration contains 56 percent forage, 40 percent of which is in the form of Shredlage. The mid-cow ration feeds 63.5 percent forage, 41 percent is Shredlage.

After three harvests, Kutz said they’ve learned a number of things. They know they want to target 63 to 65 percent moisture, and decided to keep it closer to 65 just in case of rain delay.

They are confident they are yielding two to three more pounds of milk.

They’ve found Shredlage packs better and annihilates the kernels.

This past year they took the cut length down to 26 and found it to be more than adequate with the amount of haylage they continue to include in their ration. The main reason they continue to feed as much haylage is to feed up what is grown for the nutrient management plan.

The farm is working to grow more cover crops, which will allow them to grow more corn, but it takes time to adjust crop rotations.

The Kutzes prefer using a 20-knife drum, which they installed this year, to 12-knife because there is less vibration and noise. Roll spacing does need to be monitored closely, understanding that moisture and silage type plays a role in what that needs to be.

They also found it works well in processing high moisture corn. The Kutzes contemplated using it to harvest haylage, but decided against it for fear of running rocks through the rolls.

When asked about fuel consumption, Kutz replied, “As a dairyman, fuel is the least of my concern; that’s pennies compared to dollars.”

Overall, he said the knives are doing less work and the processor is doing more work, which tends to even out.

“From the results we’ve seen it’s worth a lot of money for us,” Kutz said. He has heard talk of increasing custom rates by $1 per ton and added that the benefits they are getting would far outweigh that cost.  FG

Article written by Progressive Forage Grower Editor Karen Lee

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