Livestock farmers considering crimping their cereals should be ready for harvest in the next few weeks. Farmers Guardian speaks to a dairy producer to find out how harvesting his cereals early helps animal health, nutrition and finances.
Lincolnshire dairy farmer David Banham had always grown enough corn on his family farm to feed his 155-head herd of Holsteins.
Home-grown wheat or barley would be mixed with by-products, grass silage, wholecrop cereals and a little rape and soya, to make what he believed to be an economic ration for his 10,000-litre herd.
But last year, when he started to calculate the cost of drying, storing and rolling grain, he began to question whether using home-grown cereals was really worthwhile.
Mr Banham says: “My bill for drying the grain was £1,159. This was for the 142.8 tonnes I took to the drier, which came back as 132.6 tonnes. This means I was paying £1,159 to lose 10 tonnes.”
Although this weight loss was partly accounted for by the reduction in moisture, he says he has never understood why weight loss is so great.
He says: “This is just the way it seems to be. I have never fathomed how you can take out 2-3 per cent moisture and lose 7 per cent of the weight.”
Concluding the drying alone cost him £8.74/t for the 132.6t he received back on the farm, he then had to add a storage charge of £2.50/t/month as he lacked adequate dry grain storage facilities on-farm.
Mr Banham says: “I have not costed transport, but we took the grain six miles to the drier in each direction, then there were weighbridge charges at £1.50/load.”
On top of this, he also started to pay someone to collect corn from the grain store and mill it on-farm, which came in at a cost of £180 for a 10t load, says Mr Banham, who farms at Rich Pasture Dairy Farm, Thorpe Dale, between the Lincolnshire Marshes, Fens and Wolds.
In the end, he began to research buying his own mill and now has a mill which rolls 4.5-5t of wheat or barley an hour.
After running this mill for several years, he still believed he could reduce costs further, so looked into methods of storage for moist grain. He considered a variety of options and finally plumped for crimping – a process which dovetailed perfectly with the Murska mill he had bought.
Michael Carpenter, from Kelvin Cave, says: “Crimping would mean simply applying the crimping product through the mill and storing the moist grain – compacted and airtight – in a simple, low-cost outdoor clamp.”
Describing the process by which he built the make-shift clamp on an outdoor concrete base, Mr Banham says he used free-standing concrete panels on one side and Heston bales on the other, and lined the sides with sheeting, covering and sealing the top with a double-layered oxygen barrier sheet.
Explaining the temporary agreement, Mr Banham says: “We wanted to dip our toe in the water. We processed about 170t of barley through the mill on the day of, or the day after, harvest at about 25-26 per cent moisture, although we now appreciate we can harvest earlier for crimping at about 30-35 per cent.”
Also opting to continue with his old method of drying for the wheat, he felt he would not go the whole hog until he had seen the process work for himself.
He says: “We did not know anyone locally who had gone into crimping, so there was no-one we could ask for advice from their own farm experience.”
Costing the whole process, Mr Carpenter says the crimping product itself comes in at £5-7/t, depending on grain moisture and application rates, and the mill runs at about £5-6/t, including fuel and depreciation. With sheeting at less than £1/t, the total for the new method of preservation is £11-£14/t.
Mr Carpenter says: “In addition to these cost savings, it has been proven from a variety of trials that cereals harvested earlier have a higher dry matter yield than those harvested dry, because there are fewer harvesting losses and there is usually less disease on the crop.
“And we were confident Mr Banham could expect better rumen health and high intakes, as crimped cereals are excellent from a nutritional perspective and are more digestible than rolled grain.”
Bringing in his feed company nutritionist to compile a ration, Mr Banham introduced 5kg per head of crimped barley into the TMR, which was mixed in the wagon with the forage, by-products and rape/soya mix.
He says: “We soon edged this upwards. It was more by mistake than by design, as the by-product deliveries were becoming less reliable and we did not want to keep changing the ration when ingredients ran out, so we increasingly started to replace them with the crimp.”
Finally reaching crimp intakes of 7kg/head/day, he says every lorry he could stop entering the yard represented a cashflow saving of about £3,000, while cows appeared to thrive on the ration and responded in the parlour.
“All of a sudden, butterfats and proteins started to skyrocket and yields went up too,” he says, quoting the latest monthly recording for the year-round calving herd at 4.09 per cent fat and 3.35 per cent protein.
However, some time in May, Mr Banham ran out of crimped barley and cows have had to go back on to rolled barley since then.
He says: “We have lost more than five litres per cow per day. Production has dropped from 32.5 litres to 27 litres and I am convinced it is to do with barley.”
Mr Banham also speculates the switch back to dry grain has contributed to three displaced abomasums.
Mr Carpenter says: “Crimped, moist cereals are known to be better for rumen health than dried, and it is not impossible rumen fill and health may have declined as the switch was made back to dried cereals.”
Mr Carpenter suggests this may have been a factor behind the displaced abomasums, which are still under investigation.
Now, Mr Banham has a plan firmly in place for this summer’s harvest: “We plan to harvest both barley and wheat early, at a moisture content of about 30-35 per cent, and put everything through our crimping machine and add the same preservative.”
The existing mill, which has rolled the dried grain perfectly as it has come back to the farm in batches from storage, is to be traded in and replaced by a Korte 1000. This has metre-long rollers, is heavier built, and – with a throughput of 15-18t/hour – will keep up with the combine so all the farm’s cereals can be rolled, crimped and clamped on the day of harvest.