A short time ago, I asked Len Reggie how he would get warm season grass from the field to the poultry house. The material needs to arrive in a “ready to use” condition. Len is a very talented engineer. He responded very quickly to my request. Below is that response.
Here is what I have come up with so far concerning harvesting grass for poultry litter.
A one pass harvest system is the ultimate goal.
A single chop will minimize dust, an absolute necessity for animal litter.
A bale density of 30#/cu.ft will minimize shipping costs.
Minimal handling will reduce costs.
It may be advantageous to contact a broker to expedite sales.
First, the harvesting method. There are two options, a flail chopper and a forage harvester.
See http://agriculture.newholland.com/au/en/Products/Hay-and-Forage-Equipment/Documents/260613Pull%20Type%20Forage%20Harvesters.pdf for example. other companies make them as well.
A flail chopper will harvest and chop in one pass and avoid picking up dirt and rocks. extra knives can be added for a finer chop. The disadvantage is that the chop size will vary with varying feed rates. Adjusting tractor speed may overcome this problem sufficiently. A field test is necessary on dry material. Used equipment can be purchased at very reasonable cost. New machines run about 15K.
Secondly, a forage harvester. This is the ideal machine when chop size is critical. You add or remove knives to adjust chop size. The machine has powered feed rolls similar to a wood chipper. The disadvantage is that they are designed to pick up a windrow, which means an additional pass to cut the grass and the introduction of dust, rocks and material loss. A corn head is available but I don't know if a grass head is made by any manufacturer. It may be possible to engineer a cutter bar in front of the pickup head. I am sure some farmers have experience with this equipment so feedback is important.
Obviously a self unloading wagon is necessary. Three may be required for a continuous harvest. These are readily available used for reasonable cost.
Next is bagging. In my opinion the best method is a compression baler. See http://rethceif.com/products/rethpack-hc-2010 for example. These are available in semi manual to fully automatic and can be purchased used since they are very common.
In order to maximize production, the baler should be sized to match harvest rates. the baler can be fed directly from the self unloading wagon. The bales should be sized to fit a standard 40 x 48" pallet. At a density of 30 # /cu. ft. a one ton pallet will be 60" high. Pallets can be stored outdoors. A 53 ft flatbed will carry 24 tons. Obviously the bagging system needs to be portable so it may have to be engineered.
There is another possible market for bagged grass. Hydroseeding.
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This is worth looking into.
New Warm-season Grass Producer Group Supports Grower Needs in a Developing Industry
Warm-season grass crops are a compelling opportunity for producers interested in expanding acreage to marginal fields for fuller land utilization, exploring new agricultural products and markets, enhancing ecosystem services, and reaching many other objectives. However, adoption of these crops has not yet become widespread, and producers interested in or actively involved in managing these crops may benefit from working cooperatively in building the industry. Penn State Extension has recently been working with warm-season grass growers in the region to establish a producer group designed to help meet the needs of those working directly with these new crops.
Known as The Association of Warm Season Grass Producers (AWSGP), this group:
Promotes the use and planting of warm-season grasses.
Works to maximize the profitability of these crops for local farmers.
Assists in educating growers on the implementation of best practices for managing and harvesting these
Supports and encourages entrepreneurial activity that further develops the use of warm-season grasses
in all areas of agriculture.
Membership is voluntary and open to any individual, business, or organization representing those interested in using or supporting the activities of AWSGP and are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.
If you might be interested in joining or just want a bit more information, reach out to Will Brandau, the AWSGP Chair (email@example.com / 570-379-2971), who will place you on the email list and begin a dialogue about your interests and needs as they pertain to this group. You can also contact Sarah Wurzbacher at the Penn State Extension Crawford Office (firstname.lastname@example.org / 814-350-7753).
In the meantime, let’s address a few of the basic questions you might have:
Q: Is this a Penn State Extension program?
A: Penn State Extension facilitated the founding of this group, but the leadership (officers, steering committee members) and membership are composed entirely of producers and businesses working directly in the industry as practitioners.
Q: What is the cost of membership?
A: The AWSGP collects modest annual membership dues to cover a few basic expenses (for example, its website): $10 for a participant who does not produce warm-season grasses, $25 for a farmer producing warm-season grasses, and $40 for a business.
Q: Can I see what this group is all about before joining?
A: As a newly established group, the AWSGP welcomes interested individuals to join them for a few calls or meetings before committing to membership and paying dues.
Q: Where else can I find out more?
A: In addition to using the contact information above, you can visit the AWSGP website (http://www.awsgp.org/) or swing by the Penn State Renewable and Alternative Energy table display (in the Harrington Building) at Ag Progress Days (August 16-18), where an AWSGP member will be posted to talk with you. In addition, several AWSGP members will be present at a series of upcoming pellet production workshops happening across Pennsylvania between July and September. Find out more about these workshops at https://www.pnercd.org/.