19 January 2001

New-techs cracking way to add forage ingredients

By Hannah Velten

NEW technology has allowed one Shropshire dairy producer to feed better quality whole-crop forages to his herd, as well as introduce previously unsuitable crops into the ration.

Using a whole-crop mill inside the contractors forage harvester means cereals and beans can be cracked while being harvested, says Andrew Shakeshaft, who runs a 180-head herd with 100 followers at Whattall Farm, Colemere, Ellesmere.

Having produced whole-crop forages since 1990, Mr Shakeshaft believes that technology has finally caught up, allowing him to produce more nutritionally efficient feed. This is shown in the current average milk yield of 8094 litres, compared with 7500 litres in September 1999, when cracked grain was introduced to the ration.

"The mill consists of two fluted rollers, with one travelling at a higher rpm than the other to produce a crushing effect. Crushing grains makes them more digestible, allowing better use of available energy," he says.

He hopes this will quell doubts over whole-crops effectiveness and promote the use of alkaline-treated over fermented whole-crop. The former has an indefinite harvest window – right up to combining – meaning a higher starch content, which boosts milk protein levels.

The grain crusher has revolutionised production on the farm, says Mr Shakeshaft. "Barley has a harder grain cuticle than wheat and has been unsuitable for whole-crop until now. This year 30 acres of barley will be sown, which better suits our light, sandy loam land."

Mr Shakeshaft is considering using the crusher and forage harvester to process grain for concentrate feeding. "Wheat and barley is already fed on farm, but has to be processed separately after harvesting. The process of head-cutting – only harvesting the top of the crop – will mean grain is ready for feeding, cutting out processing costs." Straw will be mown and baled in a separate operation.

Another change to the cow feeding regime is the removal of 10.5ha (26 acres) of peas from the crop rotation. "Although we have harvested peas for the last three years, they are being dropped this year because of harvesting difficulties; they lie flat after desiccation. Losses were high when we tried to mow and row the crop up."

Increasing spring beans will compensate for the loss of peas from the ration and Mr Shakeshaft aims to plant 28.3ha (70 acres) this year.

Wheat alkalage is proving to be a cost-effective forage as well as improving cow health and rumen efficiency, says Andrew Shakeshaft.

Want to know more?

A one-day whole-crop conference, at Harper Adams University College, Newport, Shropshire, on Thur, Feb 8, will cover improving animal performance, protein whole-crops, meeting cow needs and feeding trials. Places cost £21, or £19 for MGA members, and must be booked with the Maize Growers Association (01189-761276, fax 01189-761451).