SOUTHWEST, N.Y. — Dry matter (DM) is the part of forages or feed after moisture is removed. This is important for farmers to measure because it impacts the quality of the crops they feed their livestock. The most accurate way to test for dry matter is through a laboratory sample where they use a high-tech “oven” to measure DM. There are different ways that DM testing can be done on-farm which helps with making livestock feed changes and determining optimal harvest for quality silage making.
At recent SWNY Corn Silage Pre-Harvest Meetings, speaker Joe Lawrence, from Cornell PRO-DAIRY, talked about the importance of monitoring a corn crop’s dry matter for optimal harvest and storage. One way to measure dry matter of growing/harvested crops, and even at feed out or a whole TMR (Total Mixed Ration), is with the latest trendy kitchen appliance – an air fryer.
Air fryers are small, convection style ovens that “fry” food without using oil. They’ve recently grown in popularity and are used in the home to prepare things like french fries, doughnuts, bacon, and – my kids’ favorite – “chicken tendies”. Cooking with convection, hot air is circulated throughout the air fryer to crisp by losing moisture. These are readily available from any box store and online retailers for $50 – $200.
Traditionally, farms use a Koster tester, ranging in price from $400 – $2,000 from various farm supply stores. There are also more expensive options for hand-held near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Farms have used regular microwaves as well by microwaving samples for a few minutes (counterintuitive – but be sure to include a cup of water with your sample to prevent fire/minor explosion). This process, while affordable, is tougher and more involved than an air-fryer or Koster tester, requiring a lot of trial and error and (usually) a couple busted up microwaves.
How does an air fryer compare to these other methods? Joe Lawrence noted that the air fryer used the same amount of electricity as a traditional Koster tester but its advantages lie in price and decrease in fire risk with its automatic shut off. It’s also a “set it and leave it” process. Accuracy wise, an international group of researchers found that there was no significant difference in accuracy between an air fryer, microwave, or forced air oven.
To use an air fryer to measure DM, based on a 2018 article from Dan Severson of the University of Delaware, you will:
- Weigh out 100 grams of a representative sample of what you’re measuring
- Representative = not just two stalks out of the field that you could grab from your truck door. Pick 5 – 10 stalks from a few different spots in the field, or many handfuls from different areas of your TMR for example. If measuring growing forages, be sure to “process” them in some way – send through a chipper, chop a small amount, etc.
- Using an inexpensive kitchen scale works great. You can then cheaply replace it often (those scales that came with your 30 year old Koster tester might be inaccurate enough to really skew your results).
- Place the sample in the air fryer basket (what my kids would call the Chicken Tendie Hot Spa)
- You’ll want to spread it out in a somewhat even layer.
- Set the fryer to 250 degrees F and the timer to 30 minutes.
- Record the weight of your dry sample.
- Use the same scale/tare for your container
- Calculate the DM content
- With a 100 gram sample, you’ll: Final Dry Weight (grams) / Initial Wet Weight (grams) X 100 = percent dry matter
- Example: 45 grams dried sample / 100 grams initial wet sample x 100 = 45% DM
You can then use this dry matter to balance your rations, determine harvest windows, and improve your overall forage quality! If you’d like more information or have questions, contact your local Field Crops Specialist. For the SWNY region, we’re currently recruiting to fill this position, so contact Katelyn Walley-Stoll, SWNYDLFC Team Leader, at 716-640-0522.
SWNYDLFC is a partnership between Cornell University and the CCE Associations of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Steuben counties. Their team includes Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management (716-640-0522); Amy Barkley, Livestock Management (716-640-0844); and Camila Lage, Dairy Management (607-422-6788). CCE is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.
–Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management Specialist
with the SWNY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program
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