More milk and no dry hay fed. Those are the advantages Steve Ziegler is seeing after switching his herd from standard corn silage to Shredlage.

Shredlage – silage corn harvested longitudinally at longer chop lengths – is the brainchild of two nutritionists and a crop-processor manufacturer. They say a self-propelled forage harvester equipped with a Shredlage processor rather than a traditional processor makes the plant material more digestible and less sortable than standard corn silage.

Ziegler and his father, Greg, milk 900 Holsteins and raise 2,500 acres of crops that include – besides silage corn – alfalfa, grain corn, soybeans and wheat near Middleton, WI. When their nutritionist told them about the new way of harvesting silage corn, they decided to give it a try.

“We know we went up 3 lbs/cow/day (in milk production) just by adding the Shredlage. And we completely took all of the hay out of the fresh-cow ration. We pulled back a little on straw, too,” says Ziegler. At this point, only a little straw – about ¾ lb/cow/day to dry cows and springers and about a half-pound to fresh cows – is fed.

Butterfat for the herd also increased from 3.85% to 4%.

When they first switched to Shredlage in early January, the Zieglers, at right, were feeding old, lower-quality haylage. In February, they started feeding higher-quality haylage put up in 2012; milk production rose an additional 3 lbs to total 96 lbs/cow/day.

Corn silage has been a big part of the dairy’s primary ration – 60% – with haylage at 25% and the rest minerals and high-moisture corn. Although the Zieglers took two weeks to slowly replace corn silage with Shredlage in their cows’ diets, it wasn’t necessary, Ziegler thinks. And taking dry hay from the ration – at $250/ton, was “a huge savings.

“The cows are doing fantastic. We haven’t seen any problems; there’s no reason to not stop feeding hay.”

Just a few years in the making, Shredlage is gaining a foothold in the silage-corn harvesting market. Dairy producers and custom harvesters from New York to Washington State have been testing the new processor that harvested 1 million tons of a long-length, shredded corn silage in 2012, says Jason Schiebout.

He’s with Scherer Design Engineering, Inc., Tea, SD, which manufactures traditional crop processors for Claas forage harvesters as well as the Shredlage equipment.

Shredlage was instigated in 2010 by nutritionists Ross Dale, Oskaloosa, IA, and Roger Olson, Baldwin, WI, who have since trademarked the word Shredlage and formed a company by that same name.

With the engineering expertise of Bob Scherer, they made the first of their processors to fit Claas self-propelled harvesters that year. By 2011, six Shredlage processors were available and last year, 38 “prototype-style” units were on harvesters, Schiebout says. Scherer’s company holds the license to manufacture them.

Between harvest seasons, the company pulled all 38 processors back to its plant. “In the 2012 season, we found some weak points of the Shredlage-style processor,” Schiebout says. He spoke at the recent Midwest Forage Association, Wisconsin Custom Operators and Professional Nutrient Applicators Conference.

“Most of the machines (the Shredlage processor was put into) had 24-knife drums that will let you cut up to 22 mm. But the Shredlage guys said that was not long enough, so we pulled out every other knife and went down to 12 knives,” Schiebout says. “We found that that did not work.

“There were slugs feeding into these machines, and we were getting too much vibration – too much movement – in the processors’ spring systems and the rolls. We were breaking frames and casts.”

Ziegler, who was running a 2012 Claas 960 with half the 24 knives on the drum taken out, was getting silage at a 30-35 mm length of cut rather than the 26 mm the Shredlage nutritionists recommend. He also had slugs of material pushing through the processor.

“It was pretty beat up by the end of the season,” he says.

To fix that problem, the manufacturer “did a couple of things. We put in a different spring system and came up with a 20-knife drum in the 494 (Claas Jaguar) system,” Schiebout says.

For older Claas choppers – the 491, 492 and 493 – a half-knife drum is available at local dealerships that “works really well,” he claims.

Speed-roll differential and frame strength were also increased, Schiebout adds.

The high-performance Shredlage processor fits 2008-2011 Claas Jaguar 494 Series choppers. In 2012, Claas came out with a different crop processor, so Shredlage, LLC developed the High-Performance Modified Shredlage model that fits all 2012 Claas machines.

“We were getting a lot of demand from people who owned different models (of forage harvesters),” adds Schiebout. So the company came up with Loren Cut rolls to fit stock processor frames of the Krone Big X, New Holland’s FR Series and John Deere’s 7200 Series and newer harvesters. “The setup and modification of the machines are all dependent on the dealer or machine owner.”

Schiebout gets a lot of questions from growers, but the first one he usually hears: “Why do I want to run two different processors for my machine, because I do a lot of snaplage or earlage or just standard corn silage?”

His answer: “There is no reason to run two different processors unless you want to keep the wear and tear off the crop processors. The Shredlage processor will do a very good job on standard length-of-cut corn silage and it will do a really good job on snaplage or earlage, tearing up that kernel.”

As for Ziegler, he plans to harvest Shredlage this season with a 2013 Claas 960 with a 20-knife drum. “We’re pretty excited because we’re going to a solid 26-mm cut. It should be pretty smooth,” he says.

For more on Shredlage, read: