Corn silage takes on a more important role in northern Colorado with Leprino cheese plant in operation
Fort Collins, Colo.
Dairy farming has always been an important part of the agricultural economy in Weld County, but dairy production has really increased since the Leprino cheese plant opened in Greeley, Colo., in late 2011.
Leprino started in Denver, Colo., over 60 years ago and is the world’s largest mozzarella cheese producer. It is also the largest lactose producer in the world and a leading supplier of whey protein.
According to Bridgett Weaver of The Greeley Tribune, the Greeley plant requires the milk of about 80,000 dairy cows every day. “All of the milk comes from within a 60-mile radius of the factory, which is mostly in Weld County, and is used within 24 hours of milking,” Weaver wrote. The Leprino plant has resulted in Weld ranking as one of the top 12 counties in the U.S. for milk production.
So all of those new cows have to eat, and dairy cows eat a lot. An adult lactating dairy cow can consume up to 100 pounds of food per day, depending on the size of the animal. Fortunately, because of their four stomachs, dairy cows can eat things that other animals cannot. Due to increased demand, Northern Colorado and especially Weld and Larimer counties have shifted much of their ethanol and grain corn acreage to silage.
Silage is moist, chopped corn that is stored in huge bunker silos, which are covered with an oxygen barrier plastic film. The chopped corn undergoes anaerobic fermentation and then is mixed with grain and other nutrients and fed to dairy cows.
It is not unusual to pass a green field of corn and come back a few hours later and see that the corn is gone. Nothing remains except row after row of 8-inch high corn stalks. It seems almost impossible that anything could make all that corn disappear in a few short hours.
Actually it is all in a day’s work for one or more John Deere 7980 Self-Propelled Forage Harvesters like Bob Kraft has. Kraft has been living and farming up near Wellington, Colo., all of his life. In fact, he still lives in the house that he was born in.
There are two attachments for the harvester, one that picks up hay and the vicious looking corn chopper with its circular blades that rotate in different directions. The corn chopper will reduce green corn stalks that are 8 feet tall to an 8-inch stub in seconds. The result is a moist mixture of stalks, leaves, cobs and kernels that will be blown through an articulated arm and into the back of a truck that is running alongside.
Truck after truck comes up to be filled and the harvester never stops. When the field is clear, Bob Kraft has made quick work of the 28-acre field, getting through it in eight to 10 acres per hour with a yield of 32 tons per acre.
A quick clean-up and check of the harvester and Kraft is off to the next field, because in the harvest season, time is money. ❖
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