A Hard Look at Costs Sees Complete Switch from Drying to Crimping Grain

Costs for drying and rolling grain had crept up on David Banham’s Lincolnshire farm. When he turned to crimping as an alternative, he discovered the benefits were more than financial.

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 when, last year, he started to calculate the cost of drying, storing and rolling the grain, he began to question whether using home-grown cereals was really worthwhile. 

“My bill for drying the grain was £1,159,” he says. “That was for the 142.8 tonnes I took to the drier which came back as 132.6 tonnes, which means I was paying £1,159 to lose 10 tonnes.”

Although this weight loss was partly accounted for by the reduction in moisture – with 16-18% moisture content cereals drying down to 15% – he says he has never understood why the weight loss is so great.

“That’s just the way it seems to be; I’ve never fathomed how you can take out 2-3% moisture and lose 7% of the weight,” he says.

Concluding that the drying alone cost him £8.74 per tonne for the 132.6 tonnes he received back on the farm, he then had to add to this a storage charge of £2.50/tonne/month as he lacked adequate dry grain storage facilities on the farm.

“I haven’t costed the transport but we took the grain six miles to the drier in each direction, and then there were the weighbridge charges at £1.50 per load,” he says.

On top of this, he also started to pay someone to collect the corn from the grain store and to mill it on the farm, which came in at a cost of £180 for a 10 tonne load.

“Part of this cost was because he had to drive for one-and-a-half hours to get here, but adding another £18 per tonne was the final straw,” says David, whose Rich Pasture Dairy Farm is slightly off-the-beaten-track in Thorpe Dale, between the Lincolnshire Marshes, Fens and Wolds.

It was at this point that he started to research buying his own mill, and consulted feed preservation specialists, Kelvin Cave Ltd.

“I ended up buying a Murska 350 which rolls 4.5-5 tonnes of wheat or barley an hour, so I immediately cut the rolling costs we had previously incurred,” he says.

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.

“David wanted to find a simple and cost-effective system,” says Michael Carpenter, Kelvin Cave’s northern area manager. “And 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.

“We chose the new product, CrimpSafe300 for the purpose, because it contains powerful preservation ingredients and promotes a controlled and restricted lactic fermentation in the clamp, while also eliminating the yeasts and moulds which cause waste once the grain is exposed to air,” he says.

Describing the process by which he built the make-shift clamp on an outdoor concrete base, David 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 the double layered O2 Barrier 2in1.

“We just wanted to dip our toe in the water,” he says, explaining the temporary arrangement. “We processed around 170 tonnes of barley through the Murska mill on the day of, or the day after, harvest at around 25-26% moisture, although we now appreciate we can harvest earlier for crimping at around 30-35%.”

Also opting to continue with his old method of drying for the wheat, he felt he wouldn’t go the whole hog until he had seen the process work for himself.

“We didn’t know anyone locally who had gone into crimping so there was no one we could ask for advice from their own farm experience,” he said.

Costing the whole process, Michael Carpenter says the crimping product itself comes in at £5-7 per tonne, depending on grain moisture and application rates, and the Murska mill runs at about £5-6 per tonne, including fuel and depreciation. With sheeting at less than £1 per tonne, the total for the new method of preservation is between £11 and £14 per tonne.

“This is a far cry from the previous drying, storage, haulage and contractors’ milling charges, which we know exceeded the £30 per tonne mark,” he says.

“However, 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’s usually less disease on the crop,” he continues.

“And we were confident David 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, David 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.

“But we soon edged this upwards,” he recalls. “It was more by mistake than by design as the by-product deliveries were becoming less reliable and we didn’t 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 that every lorry he could stop entering the yard represented a cash-flow saving of around £3,000, while the cows appeared to thrive on the ration and responded in the parlour.

“All of a sudden, butterfats and proteins started to sky-rocket and yields went up too,” he recalls, quoting the latest monthly recording for the year-round calving herd at 4.09% fat and 3.35% protein.

But the story for David does not end on a happy note, as it was some time in May that he ran out of crimped barley and the cows have had to go back on to rolled barley since then.

“I couldn’t have imagined that going back to dry rolled from crimp would make such a difference, but we have lost over five litres per cow per day,” he says. “Production has dropped from 32.5 litres to 27 litres and I am convinced it’s to do with the barley.”

Also regretting that he has had three displaced abomasums since the switch back to dry grain, it has been speculated that this is also related to the change in diet.

“Crimped, moist cereals are known to be better for rumen health than dried, and it’s not impossible that rumen fill and health may have declined as the switch was made back to dried cereals,” says Michael Carpenter, suggesting this may have been a factor behind the LDAs, which are still under investigation.

The upshot is that David has a plan firmly in place for this summer’s harvest.

“We plan to harvest both the barley and wheat early, at a moisture content of about 30-35%, and put everything through our crimping machine and preserve it with CrimpSafe 300,” he says.

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 15-18 tonnes an hour – will keep up with the combine so that all of the farm’s cereals can be rolled, crimped and clamped on the day of harvest.

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