Big capacity chaff collection cart Canadian style

With feed shortages looming, cattle producers are thinking about alternative feed sources, such as ammoniated slough grass and chaff. Chaff may have high nutritional value, but it’s a nuisance to handle.

Eldon Obach intends to turn that negative perception around 180 degrees with his new high-volume Boomerang Chaff Cart.

Last week he completed construction on his first Manitoba-built Boomerang, which is expected to debut next week at the Farm Progress Show in Regina.

The Boomerang system is designed to interrupt the chaff flow and channel it onto a horizontal conveyor back toward the boomerang, where it dumps onto an inclined conveyor that brings it up to the clamshell-shaped bin. The bin dumps either automatically or at the driver’s command, leaving a chaff pile or a chaff swath to be dealt with later.

Boomerang is the first Canadian-built, high-volume chaff cart. It’s built under licence to the Tecfarm Smartcart company of Australia, and is a virtual twin to the Aussie version.

Previous Canadian chaff collection systems saw limited uptake, moving in and out of popularity. Nonetheless, engineers on the Australian Tecfarm Smartcart team say they based their design on these Canadian pioneering systems. But they pumped in some major upsizing. Their Smartcart is available in 30 cubic metres and up to 50; 39 cubic yards up to 65.

“The Australians did use the old Redekop REM design for a while, but they were too small… so they started this Smartcart design from scratch.”

Obach says he plans to build three or four more units this summer, then decide how big of a manufacturing challenge his company, Feedworks, wants to take on in the long-term. Drought or no drought, he says the high-capacity of the Boomerang is bound to attract the attention of large cattle operations that have access to cropland.

“The Australian company I’m working with has already sold 160 Smartcarts. I expect when farmers see the volume and the simplicity, it’s going to drum up some serious interest,” said Obach, adding that in Australia, the Smartcart is used as a weed control device to get rid of herbicide-tolerant weed seeds.

Australia has a severe herbicide resistance problem. To help combat the problem they use chaff carts to collect weed seeds in large piles, then burn the piles. Tecfarm says they capture 97 percent of weed seeds and volunteer seeds.

“A farmer here on the Prairies can use the Boomerang for controlling herbicide-resistant weeds if he wants, but I’m targeting big livestock operations. They need a solid supply of nutrition at the lowest possible price. Ammoniating chaff is one of smartest ways to accomplish that. I think of this as a feed machine.”

Obach says Tecfarm has worked closely with him, in providing blueprints and technical assistance. For this first machine, Tecfarm supplied the complete electronic and hydraulic packages. Obach has since found western Canadian sources for nearly all of these components.

“When I first started working on this with Tecfarm, they said there’s no way they could build it over there and ship it here. For the price to remain reasonable, it would have to be built in Western Canada, where the market is. We have it priced at $69,500. It’s being built by Fabworks at the Deker Hutterite colony (Manitoba).”

Obach says the installation is strait forward. A long drawbar attaches to the combine front axle with two bolts, and no welding. This transfers cart draft to the front combine axle. The back end of the drawbar runs in a conventional swinging drawbar hanger, providing a 90-degree swing, thus allowing sharp left or right turns with the combine. The hanger is mounted behind the rear axle.

A long tongue is required for the conveyor and to clear the combine unload auger. Total length of the cart is 33 feet. The front 11 feet is for the horizontal conveyor that’s tucked behind the combine.

The front of the conveyor reaches ahead of the pivot point to ensure it catches all chaff. Obach says the operator hooks the cart tongue to the drawbar, attaches the electrical harness and hydraulics, and it’s ready to go harvesting grain and collecting chaff.

“Getting the chaff to the belt is a trick on some of the newer combines. The new Deeres, for example, are probably the most complex. They like to run all their chaff through the straw chopper. So we have to intercept the chaff with two baffles put into the back of the machine, which direct the chaff down to our belt.

“There’s an Australian company that designs and builds these kits for different combines. They can air-freight these kits so we get them inside of a week. Or, if it’s a simple design, they’ll just email the blueprints and we’ll fabricate it here. The older combines are open in the back, so it’s easy to get to the chaff stream.

“But then we have to find 10 gallons of oil flow somewhere. We usually take it from the chaff spreader circuit, because that’s no longer needed. On the newer combines, there’s lots of places to get at the hydraulics. It’s not as easy on older models. In some rare cases, they’ve even mounted an auxiliary hydraulics pump on the engine.”

The hydraulics run the two conveyors, cylinders for the tailgate. There is no need for an unload conveyor or auger in the bin because too much of the material falls to the back of the bin that it unloads itself when the tailgate opens. Opening the gate a small amount lets a windrow trickle out. Opening it all the way lets a big heap fall out.

The monitoring system gives the operator information on the two conveyors, whether or not the tailgate is closed and also lets the operator control the speed of the tailgate dump cycling. The operator can set the tailgate to leave large compact heaps for burning or long stretched out windrows for baling.

“Modern combines produce chaff that is considerably different from what it used to be. If you go back 10 or 15 years and look at the chaff piles, you’ll see a pile of very fine material. A modern combine, especially if it’s a rotary, tortures the material so a significant amount of straw ends up in the chaff. We no longer get a dense pile of chaff.

“What we do have is chaff that can be windrowed and baled. The Boomerang is 11 feet wide, so it leaves a windrow 11 feet wide. That’s too wide for your baling machine, so you have to rake it into a narrow windrow for baling.

“Chaff carts in the past were pretty small so you ended up with little chaff piles all over the field. That’s a nuisance to deal with.

“This Boomerang has enough capacity that you can drop the piles or windrows wherever you want. You can line them up in whatever pattern is convenient for your operation. The electronics let you tie the dump to a GPS signal so you pre-determine where the chaff is dropped. There’s enough volume that you can form just one or two big windrows down the middle of the field for easy baling.”

The Boomerang includes a video camera mounted to the back of the combine so the operator can see what’s happening in the bin. A sensor within the bin also tells the operator how much chaff is being carried. The sensor on its own can be used to automatically trigger a dump, or to signal the operator when it’s getting close to dump time.

Obach says most operators don’t run until they have a full bin. Instead, they work out a dump pattern or a straight line that makes their baling more efficient. He says that’s a significant benefit of having a large capacity.

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