FIRST POINT to note about crimped maize is just how much there is still to learn about it.
No one seems to know the best varieties to grow, optimum seed rate or the best management system. And that is before machinery, storage and feeding are considered.
For dairy farmer David Chatty, based at Cullompton, Devon, the decision to combine harvest 10ha (25 acres) of maize for crimping this year was based on intuition rather than hard facts.
“We have always grown a reasonable acreage of forage maize and to allow an area of the crop to ripen for combining did not present an enormous dilemma,” he says.
With 220 cows averaging 9500 litres a year, Mr Chatty is a great believer in home-grown feed and has often taken what many have seen as an unconventional route.
For example, he still uses tower silos, each of which stands defiantly in the farmyard and stores the farm”s haylage.
He was also one of the first to adopt a forage maize feeding regime, which he clamps conventionally.
But he insists his contractor leaves a long stubble when it is harvested.
No surprise, then, that he should turn his attention to crimped grain maize. “I feed quite a high proportion of maize meal in the ration, so a home-grown replacement appealed to me,” he says.
In early November the crop was combined with a tracked Claas Lexion fitted with an eight-row maize-header. The grain, which had a dry matter of about 30%, was passed through a 17t/hr Korte crimper, then baled and wrapped using a static Orkel compacter baler.
“It was an interesting day,” says Mr Chatty. “The first challenge was to find enough trailers to cart the grain from the combine and the next was to find somewhere to store it before it was crimped.
“The combine worked faster than the crimper and the crimper worked faster than the baler – totally back to front.”
The crimped maize was treated with a dose of Crimpstore 2000 – an organic acid preservative – at 4 litres/t, giving it a slightly soapy, yet powdery texture.
Not entirely trouble-free, the centres of the bales did loosen and start to fall out despite water being added to try to help bind the material.
“This is a problem which needs to be addressed,” he says. “When the film was applied, the centre of the bale still moved, so the finished bale looked more like a ball. But that is not a big problem.”
But why bale and not simply store the crimped maize in a clamp or, in Mr Chatty”s case, a tower silo? “There are two basic reasons. In bales the maize can be handled more easily in terms of rationing,” he says. “More importantly for the future, perhaps, bales can be sold and transported to other stock farms.”
From 10ha (25 acres), 131 bales were made, each weighing 900kg, nearly 11.6t/ha (4.7t/acre).
Whatever problems there may have been with the crimping and baling, Mr Chatty believes it has been worth it. “I am really pleased with the result. We have replaced bought-in maize meal with the crimped maize. We are feeding it in our ration at a rate of 2kg a head a day, although that could increase.” The ration also includes rolled wheat, sugar beet, maize silage and haylage.
“It is too early to be precise, but all the signs are that the cows are milking very well on it.”
And as for the costs, there are the normal ones for growing maize, and it is reasonable to assume the price of combining and forage harvesting are pretty close. The extra cost is in the crimping, treating, baling and wrapping, which Mr Chatty works out at about 25/t. If the maize had been harvested for grain and the grain dried and milled it would have cost probably nearer 35/t (15-20/t to dry and 15/t to mill).
“I pay about 130/t for maize meal and I believe, when all costs are taken into account, the home-grown maize is not only cheaper but also significantly better quality.”
He intends to grow a larger acreage next year, but concedes he is still in the dark about variety choice and seed rates.
“There is still a lot to be done with crimped maize – from seed to feeding – before it can be said there is a blueprint for success. What would appear to be certain, though, is that the product is a valuable feed,” he says.