A relatively new way of processing corn silage, which shreds stalks, effectively crushes kernels and is said to contribute to a 2-lb/cow/day milk increase, has been a real pain for the custom forage harvesting business.
Shredlage requires a whole new set of processing rolls. As many custom operators can attest, it slows down harvest and has caused extra wear and tear on choppers.
But dairy-producer clients are telling them that this method, which shreds silage corn longitudinally at 26- to 30-millimeter lengths, is how they want their crop harvested.
Many are finding the feed’s longer particle lengths provide enough fiber, and its smashed kernels enough starch, to replace some purchased feeds, including dry hay. Some also say the highly digestible feed has increased their herds’ milk production.
And some have told their custom harvesters, if they don’t get on board with Shredlage, they’ll lose business.
The new crop-processing method is causing quite a sensation – as well as consternation – amongst dairy producers, nutritionists, forage harvester manufacturers and custom operators. Shredlage is bringing about a revolution in how corn silage is harvested and used.
The rolls are the brainchild of Roger Olson, a nutritionist, and his father Loren, an inventor. The younger Olson, along with nutritionist Ross Dale, created Shredlage LCC, and then joined forces with equipment manufacturer Bob Scherer to start producing the rolls commercially in 2010. Scherer also manufactures the conventional processers used on Claas choppers.
The first Shredlage processors were sold as aftermarket units fitting newer-model Claas forage harvesters. But rolls that worked in the stock processor frames of other chopper manufacturer models, called Loren Cut, were also soon built. Shredlage rolls intermesh to rip corn while conventional cylindrical kernel processing rolls cut it.
The company’s goal, says Olson, has been “to do the absolute best job we could processing the kernels, and we had hoped that we could increase the NDF (neutral detergent fiber) digestibility.”
Shredlage rolls were introduced in 2011 to a handful of dairies, largely in the Midwest, at a time when producers were looking to maximize homegrown feeds, observes Randy Shaver, University of Wisconsin Extension dairy nutritionist.
“The $6-8/bu corn prices got the dairymen interested, and there’s a lot of research looking at animal performance relative to kernel processing,” says Shaver, who conducted the only university feeding trial on Shredlage-processed crop.
Some producers and custom harvesters, as well as forage harvester manufacturing representatives, are skeptical of Shredlage. Many argue that producers are seeing milk yield increases because they’re paying more attention to kernel processing in general. They also say there is no scientific research showing that shredding silage and exposing more of its surface area actually increases NDF digestibility.
Yet, since 2011, more than 260 Shredlage units have been sold and put into service. Another 235 or more processors for Claas choppers have so far been sold for the 2014 season. There has been a significant increase in sales of the Loren Cut rolls for the other brands as well, Olson says.
“It’s pretty clear that we can process kernels” with Shredlage, says Shaver. “But we can process kernels with pretty much any equipment depending on length of cut and how the rolls are set up. I don’t know that that’s anything magical. What is interesting is that (Shredlage) has been able to increase the length of cut and still get good kernel processing.”
"The whole theory of ripping the stalk apart and getting your kernels processed better sounded perfect,” said Myron Czech to those attending a February Midwest Forage Association meeting near his Little Falls, MN, dairy.
He and his son, Brent, from Rice, grow their own corn silage for their two 600- and 1,400-cow herds, respectively, and have used Shredlage for two years.
Brent Czech said the processor smashes kernels “far superior to anything else on the market at this point.”
Shredlage, he pointed out, offers more flexibility than regular corn silage in a dairy ration. “With Shredlage, if I want to go to a really high-silage diet, I’m able to do that with very good components; I’m able to get good butterfat tests. If I have to stretch my forage and can’t feed as much silage, the Shredlage also benefits at feeding around 14-15 lbs dry matter (per cow) because of the effective fiber.”
“To make good Shredlage,” adds his father, “you have to be pushing your machine. It’s harder on your machine, and you have to set your rolls real tight to do a good job.” Any producer using a custom operator “should not be afraid to pay him a little more money and tell him to slow down and watch your product. Make sure it’s getting processed the way you want it.”
Knowing how much to charge for chopping Shredlage – or whether they can charge for it – is causing angst among custom forage harvesters. A number are getting paid premiums of $1-3/ton of silage harvested as compensation for buying the $30,000 Shredlage rolls, for switching them in and out of their choppers as needed, and for machine wear and tear. Some are absorbing the costs.
“It’s not unreasonable to expect to charge for it,” says Shaver. “There’s at least $8 of real milk income sitting there after feed costs on the dairy side – if they get (an additional) 2 lbs of milk.”
He figures that 2-lb/cow/day milk increase at today’s $20+/cwt milk prices and feeding Shredlage at a 50-lb/cow/day rate will bring an average gross milk revenue of $16/ton of corn silage. “About half of that is going to disappear in higher feed intake if you get the extra milk, so you have about $8/ton left.”
Charging $1-3/ton of silage could probably be justified at current milk prices, he says.
Feeding Trial Results
Shave was asked to talk about his 2011 feeding trial at a half-day session on Shredlage at the U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc., (USCHI) Convention in early March.
His experiment compared Shredlage chopped at a 30-mm length of cut and 2.5-mm roll gap to corn silage conventionally chopped at 19 mm and a 2- to 3-mm roll gap.
He reported a trend toward increased dry matter intake and that total tract dietary starch and NDF digestibility were greater for cows fed Shredlage. Kernel processing (KP) scores, which measure available starch, were 75% for Shredlage rolls fitted to a newer-model Claas chopper vs. 60% for conventionally cut corn silage chopped by an older harvester.
Many people have questioned why he didn’t chop the corn silage with a newer-model chopper that could potentially do a better job processing kernels, he told the nearly 200 harvesters and industry representatives attending the meeting.
“What we were trying to do was compare it (the Shredlage KP score) to the average we see in the industry.”
That average was based on forage sample data collected over several years from three well-known forage analysis labs. The data showed that only 10-17% of corn silage samples were considered to have “excellent” KP scores of more than 70%, in which 70% or more starch would be available to the cow.
Half or more of the samples averaged in the “adequate” range, showing KP scores from 50% to 70%, and the rest of the samples were rated “poor,” with KP scores at less than 50%.
KP scores are determined after labs dry and put silage samples through a series of shaker screens. The material left on the coarse top screen is analyzed for starch.
“They’re looking for the percent of starch that is coarse vs. the percent of starch that is fine and passes through the screen,” Shaver explained.
Better Processing Needed
"We are all getting a failing grade on processing across the board,” said Jon Orr to fellow silage choppers at the USCHI convention after hearing that only 10-17% of samples rated “excellent.” Orr, of Orrson Custom Farming, Apple Creek, OH, is also vice president of the organization.
“We’re professional silage harvesters here; we should be in that excellent category with every sample we send in,” he added.
Just weeks after that meeting, however, one of those labs released 2012 and 2013 data. It showed that, since Shredlage came on the scene, more silage samples had been submitted and a greater number of KP scores moved into the “excellent” or “optimum” range.
Those increases reflect a change in attitude toward corn silage and kernel processing, Shaver suggests. “They’ve got everyone’s attention, and so everyone is trying to improve” the way they’re processing the crop.
At least 36% of 2013 silage samples analyzed at Cumberland Valley Analytical Services (CVAS) labs had KP scores in the optimum range. More than 51.1% earned adequate KP scores and just fewer than 13% showed poor scores, according to Ralph Ward, CVAS owner. Some samples represented Shredlage-processed silage.
“That would suggest that more were shifting from poor (KP scores) up and more were shifting from average to optimum,” Shaver says. “We don’t know if that trend will continue, but it looks like this whole (kernel processing) discussion, and other equipment manufacturers changing what they are doing with new prototypes and roll speeds, is moving toward improvement.” (See story, “Chopper Manufacturers Respond To Shredlage.”)