The Jersey herd at Kutz Dairy, Jefferson, WI, is feeding on a longer corn silage that also looks to be more digestible and less sortable than conventional corn silage.

That’s because, last fall, Ron, Allan and Aaron Kutz replaced their chopper’s crop processor with one that shreds the silage, all on the advice of their nutritionist, Roger Olson, Baldwin, WI. He’s one of the developers of the newly patented processor replacement and its trademarked method, called “Shredlage.”

“We’re actually chopping longer and ripping and tearing the forage. It annihilates corn kernels,” says Olson of the invention built by his father, Loren Olson, Westby, WI, along with Scherer Design Engineering, Inc. The idea was instigated by Ross Dale, who owns Nu Ag Bosko, an Oskaloosa, IA, nutrition company.

“Ross had talked about a dairyman who inadvertently had made some shredded-looking corn silage that seemed to work really well. He wondered if there was some way to commercialize something like this,” Olson explains.

The nutritionist and his dad, a retired dairy producer and inventor, put their heads together and Loren built a bench-type prototype. By July of last year, they’d met with Bob Scherer, whose company, Scherer Corrugating and Design, makes crop processors for Claas forage harvesters.

A month later, a full-size shredder was in a chopper and out harvesting.

“It wasn’t as heavy as we knew we were going to need and we didn’t get all the things that Dad was looking for or that Bob Scherer wanted, but it was corn silage season. We did a number of dairies, and Kutz Dairy was instrumental,” Olson says.

After fine-tuning the shredder, Olson had it tested again this harvest season in Texas and Wisconsin. “I knew we had to have a machine that didn’t slow anybody down. It couldn’t break down, and we didn’t want to have to totally rework the chopper. We wanted just to replace components so it’s relatively easy to do for people who already have choppers.”

Kutz Dairy, which milks 1,550 cows and raises 1,400 acres of corn and alfalfa, harvested 3,500 tons of corn silage last fall using the Shredlage machinery. Corn silage is usually chopped at ¾” or 19 mm, but the Kutzes removed half the chopper’s knives and chopped at 30 mm.

The shredder takes a little more power than a conventional processor, Olson says. But the end product packs well. Shredlage stored in the Kutzes’ carryover bunker and integrated into the ration this September had a dry matter density of 20.4 lbs per cubic foot vs. 16.9 lbs for chopped corn silage packed in the front of the same bunker.

“It shreds the crop more lengthways and creates a lot more surface area on the silage,” says Allan Kutz. “There’s more for rumen bugs to attach to and help digest it; it makes the corn silage more digestible.

“That’s one of the big advantages for us,” he adds. “A lot of dairies these days are adding straw or dry hay for rumen fill. With that longer length, we’ll be able to eliminate all of the straw out of our ration and also most, if not all, of the cottonseed.”

As the Kutzes’ cows started feeding on Shredlage, Olson pulled the 1-lb/cow/day straw amount out of the ration in a three-step process. In retrospect, he feels the entire amount of straw could have been replaced with shredded corn silage in one fell swoop – with no ill effects.

“We’ve always had to have some straw in the diet because the (Penn State) shaker box was a little light on the top,” Olson says. The TMR’s top screen was “normally in the 4-5% range with conventional silage. But now with the Shredlage, it’s been about 10% on the TMR’s top screen without any straw.

“This is a result of the top screen of the Shredlage being about 35% vs. the top screen of the regular processed corn silage at about 10%,” Olson says.

Getting effective fiber from shredded corn silage will reduce the amount of hay needed, the producers say. “If we can have more acres of corn silage and feed more corn silage vs. hay, it saves about 10-12¢/cow/day,” Allan figures.

“One other benefit is the way the shredder works,” Aaron Kutz says. “We’re able to harvest the corn silage a little bit drier. It allows the ears to fill out a little bit better and the kernels to put out more starch.”

One of Olson’s goals in creating Shredlage was to “allow corn silage to be harvested closer to the ¾ milkline” rather than the conventional 1/3-½ milkline.

By allowing kernels to more fully mature, starch value can increase by up to 10%. Mature plants processed conventionally would be spongy, sortable and less digestible, he says. Olson’s confident of the new technique after having tested processing using University of Wisconsin ag engineer Kevin Shinners’ water test and seeing results of samples put through Dairyland Labs’ silage processing score system.

As the percent of straw was decreased in the Kutzes’ Shredlage ration, butterfat was showing a slight increase, Olson says.

“Milk production,” says Allan, “is one of those things that’s really hard to nail down. But it appears that when we switched to that carryover bunker (for Shredlage), we went up on milk about a pound to a pound and a half. We also added quite a few more cows during that period, so the barns are more overcrowded. In all fairness, it may have had more of an increase if the barns would have stayed static.”

In October, a 90-day feeding trial of the shredded corn silage was instigated by University of Wisconsin Extension dairy nutritionist Randy Shaver. His results will be announced in January. Shinners is comparing the density of Shredlage to that of conventional corn silage.

In the meantime, the processor replacement continues to be fine-tuned. It currently fits newer-model Claas Jaguar forage harvesters and will be adapted to work on older-model Claas machines.

“Our intention is that we will probably go to some of the other brands (of harvesters) next,” Olson says. The shredder will be available for the 2012 silage harvest season.

The Kutzes harvested Shredlage again this season, at around 63-65% moisture.

“We’re pretty optimistic about it,” says Aaron. “It will take a little bit more horsepower, so there will be more wear out of the machinery, but that’s minor. We’re here to put the best product up for our cows.”

For more on Shredlage, contact Olson at rolson@shredlage.com.