3 August 2001

Grain crimping offers a route to expansion

With dairy producers placing more and more emphasis on maximising milk from home-grown forage, grain crimping has allowed one Derbys farmer and contractor to expand his business – and he believes the technique could attract wider interest.

Having crimped his own grain for 350 Holsteins for a number of years, Bill Dilks, who farms 280ha (700 acres) at Lawn Farm, Shottle, near Belper, has increased his contract workload to include crimping for over a dozen regular customers, and now harvests, crimps and clamps over 810ha (2000 acres) of grain each season.

Mr Dilks own 350-strong Holstein herd is run as two groups, with one herd of 120 cows on 93ha (230 acres) currently being converted to organic production. He sees opportunities for organic farmers to use home-grown crimped grain as a reliable method of producing inexpensive organic feed.

"Our herds are averaging 7500 litres and Im aiming for a minimum 5000 litres from home-grown feed," he says. "Feeding crimped grain is an effective way of helping reach this target, and gives us some flexibility in the way in which we feed home-grown grain."

The herd re-ceives 4kg/head/ day as part of a total mix ration and, according to Mr Dilks, it is proving a good way of getting good feed value from home-grown cereals – particularly crops which are ripening unevenly.

"We could increase the crimped grain content of the ration to as much as 6kg/head if we needed to."

Mr Dilks bought a local contracting business last year following an agreement with a local farmer-contractor, adding to his existing contract enterprise. As well as taking on the staff of the firm, he also acquired extra contract silaging and harvesting work, and the opportunity to expand his crimping service.

"Well make over 2000 tonnes of moist cereals this season, including 200 tonnes for our own use from 20ha of cereals," he explains. "We crimp both wheat and barley for home use, and this season we are also trying an 80:20 peas and barley mix. In addition, were going to try milling some oilseed rape for home use this year."

Mr Dilks harvests barley and wheat – which produce a higher quality forage of 13-14% protein – about a fortnight before their usual harvest date, at 30-35% moisture.

"Neither the straw nor grain poses any problem for our Deutz-Fahr 2680 or New Holland TX34 combines at this moisture," he insists. "We open up the sieves and use a higher fan speed than normal. And most of the straw is baled, so there are no chopper problems."

Unevenly ripened crops do not present a problem in the feed, because once the crop has been through the combine and crimper, and is shovelled at the clamp, green grains and ripe ones are thoroughly and evenly mixed.

In the field, the grain goes straight from the combine tank into Mr Dilks Yorkshire-built Superior crimper, bought new last year. A dose of additive is usually applied at the same time. The machines fluted rollers break the grains without crushing them completely to improve digestibility.

The crimper then augers processed grain into a trailer, and the material is then ferried to the farm to be stored in narrow clamps, sealed with a 5-10cm deep layer of brewers grains, and then sheeted and weighted with tyres much like a conventional silage clamp. "The material packs tightly and little tractor rolling is needed," says Mr Dilks.

If harvesting is delayed and crop dry matter rises beyond the 65-70% levels, the crimper has the ability to evenly add a small quantity of water to the grain to bring it up to the required moisture content for storage.

"We usually clamp our own crimped grain, but some of our customers prefer to use the Ag-Bag technique, storing it in a continuous plastic sausage," he says. "This year we are also going to give that technique a try on some of our own crop, in conjunction with an Ag-Bag contractor."

One advantage of the Ag-Bag system is the intake feed rotor tends to process the grain and it packs the material at very high density.

There are a number of other advantages to the crimped grain system for his customers, says Mr Dilks. Feeding moist grain, whether on its own or as part of a mixed ration, means less dust compared with other grain feeding methods and there is little spoilage evident when clamps are opened. The straw, particularly from barley crops, also has a high feed value when cut at this stage. &#42