Single-producer-scale preparation of warm-season grass for poultry bedding

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2017: $13,555.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Wood Crest Farm
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Will Brandau
Association of Warm Season Grass Producers


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial)
  • Additional Plants: Warm Season Grass
  • Animals: poultry
  • Miscellaneous: poultry bedding


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, livestock breeding
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer

    Proposal summary:

    Producers of landscape-friendly, sustainably-produced warm season grass (WSG) crops face a
    market climate with few well-developed, high-value uses for their crops. Poultry bedding markets,
    where WSGs have performed well, offer a compelling opportunity; however, the supply chain for
    this market involves complicated processing, handling, and transportation issues, which are
    especially difficult for small producers to overcome.
    This project utilizes existing, accessible, and affordable equipment to process WSG (specifically,
    switchgrass) for poultry bedding, with the aim of simplifying processing and transportation logistics
    to increase overall operation efficiency and economic returns.
    In this project, we will demonstrate, characterize, and compare on-farm methods for producing and
    delivering a "ready" poultry bedding product from switchgrass:
    *Tub grinder bale grind (3 packaging variants)
    a.Supersack –standardized unit packaging
    b.Paper baler –densified, standardized unit packaging
    c.Garbage truck –densified, large, single-load
    *Hammer mill bale grind
    *Forage harvester in-field grind (2 packaging variants)
    a.Supersack –standardized unit packaging
    b.Supersack –with FormPack higher-density packaging
    *In-field custom grind
    Our goals are to:
    *Test the performance of various techniques to process, package, and deliver WSG to poultry
    bedding, meeting market specifications of less than 1.25±0.25 inches
    *Identify key advantages of each method (process in the field, eliminate baling, etc.)
    *Share our findings with other WSG producers to increase the use of sustainably-managed warm
    season grass for Northeastern poultry bedding markets
    The product demand and crop availability are in place, but improved logistics are needed to help this
    market opportunity reach its full potential.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    If instead, the warm season grass could be chopped at the time of harvest, dust and crop litter would
    remain on the field rather than accumulating at a central processing location, circumventing some of
    the safety hazards otherwise presented. But even after processing, moving low-density chopped
    bedding material to an end user is difficult for the farmer to do in a logistically and economically
    efficient way. Strategies are needed to improve both processing and transportation logistics.
    Specialized baling machinery is currently being developed and tested to accomplish in-field
    chopping and densification of warm season grasses, but these high-tech solutions may be too
    expensive for smaller-scale warm season grass producers. Lower-tech, lower-cost approaches are
    needed for those producers to gain footholds in a promising market.

    This project will utilize existing equipment that a small farmer would consider accessible and
    affordable to process warm season grass for poultry bedding. We will use this work to identify
    solutions that not only prioritize in-field chopping for the reasons outlined above, but which also
    eliminate the need for baling and streamline the processing logistics. This will reduce the equipment,
    time, and labor costs associated with the processing requirements for this market.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.