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Shredlage considerations: What to expect

Tim Thompson for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 September 2016
Green Chopping

An increasing number of dairy farmers across the country have been switching from conventional silage chopping to a newer process known as shredlage.

The shredlage processor rips the forage longitudinally, opens up the rind of the plant and smashes the corn kernels, resulting in higher corn silage processing scores (CSPS) than in conventionally processed corn silage.

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Many who haven’t switched yet are asking if they should. The answer to this question may be different for each individual farm. But more and more data seem to indicate that upgrading from silage to shredlage can help producers get more milk and income from every ton of chopped corn forage.

If you are considering upgrading your forage chopper and want to improve forage efficiency, shredlage may be worth looking into.

Dairy nutritionists have been exploring the idea of longer chopped silage for more than 20 years. During that time, this idea was refined into shredlage, a forage production process that effectively crushes the corn kernel while allowing for a longer (26 to 30 mm) theoretical length of cut.

The longer cut improves digestion and cow well-being in high-corn silage diets (greater than 15 percent dry matter). Ultimately, better fermentation in the cow’s rumen can mean more pounds of milk from every ton of feed.

Testimonials abound. Scott Pralle from Selz-Pralle Dairy in Wisconsin, says, “Shredlage has successfully reduced feed cost and increased milk production here at Selz-Pralle Dairy.

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Four years ago, we added purchased wheat straw to the TMR at 1 to 2 pounds per cow to add sufficient fiber and slow down passage. Short of enough acreage, we wanted to become more efficient with our yields.”

Pralle says the shredlage processor does an excellent job of producing adequate forage length and more efficiently uses the stalk. The first three years, he reduced adding purchased straw down to a half pound per cow. In 2016, he eliminated adding any straw to the diet and says he doesn’t miss it. “Even with lower straw prices, it’s nice having one less commodity to store and handle,” Pralle says.

Pralle also notes increased production. He says, “We’re getting more milk from the cows on shredlage too. I’ve consistently seen 3 to 5 extra pounds of milk per cow per day. Our 370 milk cows average 103 to 108 pounds per day.

Milk component scores also improved. Before shredlage, our cows were producing 2.8 to 2.9 percent protein. Now we maintain 3.1 percent protein and sometimes higher.

Our herd typically produced 3.5 to 3.7 percent butterfat on regular silage. Now feeding shredlage, the effective fiber is putting our herd consistently at 3.8 to 4 percent butterfat. We strive to be in the top 10 percent of dairy producers. Adopting new technologies like shredlage has helped make our herd achieve that goal along with healthier rumens and cheaper ration input costs.”

Today’s shredlage process is the result of stepwise improvements as researchers experimented with roller speed, crop moisture, length of cut and bunker packing techniques. Shredlage equipment and processes now provide a consistent, nutritionally superior ruminant forage. Researchers continue learning about its benefits as more farmers adopt shredlage. Here is some of what I’ve observed recently.

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More milk

A number of studies at University of Wisconsin and Cornell University in New York continue to show milk production improvements when feeding shredlage. Most recently, research analysis on 152-day-and- greater lactating cows conducted by Sally Flis, Ph.D., Dairy

One, showed that milk production increased an average of 2.5 pounds per cow per day when comparing shredlage-fed cows to those fed conventional silage. Many of my customers and others observe similar production efficiency improvements.

Longer fibers, better digestion

Shredlage processes stalks, leaves and grain more thoroughly than conventional silage, while at the same time allowing longer fibers that stay in the rumen longer for more thorough digestion. Because fibers are longer, the Penn State Particle Separator (PSPS) test showed the percentage of material in the top screen was higher for shredlage than for conventional corn silage (36.8 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively).

Flis noted that despite the longer fibers, cows in the 152-cow study did not self-sort shredlage components during feeding. I have similarly noticed that cows tend to eat shredlage without being picky.

They eat just as much as before without taking extra time at the bunk. However, we are recommending that most diets maintain that top pan of the PSPS for the corn silage itself in the 20 to 25 percent range for optimum performance.

Doug Knoepke from More to Do Farms in Wisconsin, adds, “From bunker management to all the way through, we’ve noticed a lot of improvements with shredlage over conventional silage and even some of the early systems that tried to duplicate the shredlage process. One of the benefits we see with shredlage is less sorting.

Cows are good at sorting through their feed to eat only the parts they like, sort of like kids that just want the candy. The way shredlage is processed makes sorting difficult, so it’s easier for them to just eat the complete ration. Shredlage simply does a better job for us. With the longer cut, shredded stalks and better kernel processing, we gained 5 pounds of milk per cow each day.”

Being more thoroughly processed while at the same time having longer fibers favors the ruminant digestive system and tends to minimize sorting, helping to maintain a better rumen mat, which allows both dry matter fiber and grain to be converted into energy.

Undigested corn pieces no longer pass through in the manure when cows are fed shredlage. Plus, since shredded stalks are also split lengthwise, they are less spongy. Most growers report that bunker packing is easier and more efficient with shredlage, saving time and fuel at that stage of production.

Moisture, cut length and hybrid variety matter

Similar to conventional silage, you must pay close attention to crop harvest moisture to produce the best quality shredlage. Ideally, harvest should occur at around 65 percent crop moisture, but not above 70 percent. At that moisture, chopper length should be set at around 26 mm.

For a crop that has dried to 60 percent moisture, shorten the chop length to 20 to 21 mm. Adjust rollers and tighten as needed as the crop gets drier. Some corn hybrids have harder or softer kernels than others at different moistures. Always check and be prepared to adjust the rollers at the start of each new field.

Most farmers are harvesting enough corn now that it makes sense to spread out their harvest workload by planting hybrids of differing maturities. Consider your workload and labor capacity when selecting corn hybrid maturities. Planting different maturities allows you a better chance of harvesting at ideal moisture and also spreads your risk from unfavorable weather events that can reduce forage yield and quality.

Don’t forget that bunker packing is a crucial part of harvest. Since shredlage stalks are less spongy than longer-chopped conventional silage, it’s often easier to pack the bunker to attain an effective oxygen barrier, less spoilage and better fermentation.

The bottom line is shredlage, as with conventional silage, is a living biological system that requires attention to environmental factors and making adjustments as necessary. Watching the details will make your forage healthier and more efficient for your dairy cows.  end mark

Tim Thompson is a senior dairy specialist with Provimi.

PHOTO: Chopping corn. Photo by Staff.

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