Innovation may help use cereal crops as feed

The Whole Buncher creates straw piles during harvest, which provide cattle feed during the colder  months and soil moisture retention. | AJ Manufacturing Inc. photo

Whole Buncher collects straw and chaff at the back of the combine and leaves piles of the residue in the field for later use

An Alberta farmer’s innovations to an implement first developed nearly 20 years ago may be able to set up ranchers for a better 2022 as feed supplies continue to run tight this year.

Larry Woolliams, AJ Manufacturing owner, says improvements to his company’s Whole Buncher will make it easier to use cereal crops as a cattle feed source while enhancing soil moisture retention.

“It mounts on the back of a combine and it collects the straw, the chaff and any of the little grains that you throw out,” said the Airdrie-based farmer. “It then dumps off of weight on a cantilever system and leaves piles in the field.”

The Whole Buncher has been re-designed this year with Woolliams saying it can be remotely operated from the combine cab to adapt to conditions or to alter the size of the straw piles.

“As conditions change to the day, depending on the year, it feels like every second, you just push a button in the cab to add more weight or take weight off. That in turn gives you really consistent bunches so you are utilizing the product you have on hand,” he said.

Those piles can be left over the winter and act as a snow catcher to help keep moisture in the field. Coming off a drought season, the ability of the bunches to capture moisture in the form of snow will be critical if there is a repeat of the 2021 season.

“It might not be a lot depending on what we have for a winter but it could be a ton depending on what we have for a winter,” said Woolliams.

It’ll also provide a feed source for cattle with the added benefit of providing fertilizer as cows eat.

“So you’re feeding your cows on cents a day instead of dollars a day,” said Woolliams. “You’re feeding your cattle for cheap, you are lessening your carbon footprint, you are gaining soil organic matter and it’s regenerative agriculture.”

It’s an implement designed and developed by Alberta farmers and ranchers as well as manufactured in the province.

The $9,000 price tag may seem high to some, said Woolliams, but “if you start adding in feed costs and machine efficiencies, it doesn’t take long to pay for this once you have it and use it every year.”

The Whole Buncher is part of a trend in the agriculture sector to develop more efficient technologies to get the most out of the land in an environmentally responsible fashion, added Woolliams.

“A lot of people portray farmers as having a pitchfork and coveralls with a corn pipe,” he said. “We’re not like that anymore. We are very high tech and savvy and we’re trying to do everything we can to lessen our carbon footprint.”

For more content related to drought management visit The Dry Times, where you can find a collection of stories from our family of publications as well as links to external resources to support your decisions through these difficult times.

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