Aiming to improve the consistency of its total mixed ration diets, one dairy farming enterprise has invested in a dedicated straw processing machine.
We are used to hearing how critical chop length is when it comes to forage harvesters and cow performance. However, the benefits of precision chopped straw are not to be underestimated either.
This is the sentiment of Graham Sampson and Mike Morris, workshop manager and machine operator respectively at Grosvenor Estate dairy unit, Chester.
Bought at the end of 2017, the Teagle C12 Calibrator bale processor was one of the first production models and the team was sceptical about buying a machine which had very few hours under its belt.
However, with almost two years’ use and 4,000 tonnes of straw put through it, Mr Morris says it has been reliable and efficient.
Milking nearly 2,200 cows, the consistency of the diet is imperative to the performance of the herd. The high yielding cows made up of Holstein genetics can be fussy, according to Mr Morris.
He says: “With previous straw feeding strategies, it was clear the cows were sorting through the ration, leaving essential roughage in the trough.”
While the team was impressed with a previous machine’s processing output, straw, especially if slightly damp, would be flattened and slip through the hammers and not chopped down to the target 50mm.
This led to cows not having the finely balance diet they required. So far, both have been pleased by the precision and accuracy the Teagle C12 Calibrator achieves, which sees more than 70 bales put through the machine every week.
The business end of the machine consists of 56 boron steel hammers rotating at 2,000rpm. As they wear, the hammers can be rotated four times, exposing a fresh edge for cutting.
Mr Sampson says this job only takes an hour or so to do, with the team only having to do it once so far, after six months of use.
The other important component is the screens used to sort the straw size, available in 20, 30, 40, 60, 75 and 100mm variants.
The Grosvenor team uses 40 and 60mm screens, resulting in an average chop length of 50mm which they say is ideal for the cows.
These are interchangeable and replaced through the rear of the machine, just above the conveyor.
Mr Sampson says: “We like the simplicity of the system. It can be done safely from the ground and does not involve climbing into the tub.”
The pair have also been impressed with the machine’s build quality.
“Our previous machine looked flimsy and at 40kph I would not have trusted the axle underneath it,” Mr Sampson says.
“The C12 looks fit for purpose and features air brakes and a full commercial axle, which would be ideal if we had to take it to another farm.”
Powering the bale processor is a John Deere 6930, which copes adequately, says Mr Morris.
The machine’s driveline is rated to take up to 200hp with a pto speed of 1,000rpm.
Cleverly, the bale processor controls the rotation off the tub, and consequently feed to the chopping rotor, depending on the speed of the rotor.
If it senses the rotor is becoming overloaded and rotor speed drops below 1,800rpm, it will automatically stop the tub rotating until rotor speed increases again.
A flashing beacon warns the operator not to put any more material into the tub.
Mr Morris says the system works faultlessly and is near impossible to block up. The bale processor has its own independent hydraulic pack controlling the tub rotation and conveyor belt.
Teagle says this is to protect the tractor’s hydraulics from overheating and limit contamination.
This comprises a 150-litre reservoir and 60 litres per minute pump, as well as its own oil cooler with auto-reverse fan.
Mr Sampson and Mr Morris both agree dust is a lot less of an issue with the C12. While there is inevitably some, it is less of an issue than the previous machine which in effect had a blower mechanism, instead of the conveyor found on the new machine.
The conveyor is folded for transport using one of the tractor’s spools.
Electrics for the system run off the tractor, with a Bluetooth receiver situated in the tractor cab and linked to the bale processor.
The control console for the C12 is then placed in the loader so Mr Morris can control the machine as he is loading it.
Tub rotation speed can be altered from here, gaining the most from the power available from the tractor.
Range of the control unit is some 50 metres, enabling Mr Morris to travel to a nearby silage pit where bales with strings removed are gathered into the bucket ready to be tipped into the tub.
When the straw is tipped in, an audible grunt form the tractor indicates just how hard it is working to keep the rotor running.
The machine runs three times a week for a couple of hours each time, in order to keep the mixer wagon fed with precision chopped straw.
The team reckons they can chop 12 bales per hour, equating to nearly 7.5t per hour.
The output is not as high as the previous machine, but critically the consistency of chop length is excellent, says Mr Morris.
Mr Sampson adds: “When chop length starts to stray from where it is meant to be, we know the hammers need turning.
“All the panels are hinged and fold out of the way to allow access to areas where maintenance needs to be carried out. There is very little lifting of heavy or awkward items.
“Greasing the machine is also a doddle, with all the points grouped into one bank, saving time and effort.”
Reliability of the machine has been near faultless. The only occurrence where work has had to be done was electrical related, so the team called in Teagle to help.
“The dead man safety switch on the machine had got damp and started to interfere with the Bluetooth connectivity,” Mr Sampson says.
“It was soon remedied by replacing the switch, and to date this has been the only issue.”
Mr Morris says any grade of straw can be processed, even if slightly damp.
The team also puts hay through the machine occasionally, with similar results.
Both Mr Sampson and Mr Morris have been impressed with the machine’s performance so far.
For them, the machine is all about quality, from the way it is built, to the consistency of chop length coming off its elevator. And although the throughput of the machine is not as high per hour, the team is confident it will outlast its predecessor.
Critically, they both acknowledge the cows do not sort through the TMR as much as before, resulting in the whole diet being consumed, benefiting cow health and production.