The switch to a self-propelled feeder from a trailed machine has cut costs for one Dorset milk producer and led to more consistent rations plus shorter feeding times. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
The self-propelled feeder has given consistent ration quality and reduced feeding times at Crutchley Farms.
For Crutchley Farms, the path to profitability is being walked slowly, but surely, as a result of a keen eye for detail combined with the desire to seek out efficiency gains in all aspects of its 750-cow herd.
Currently, the farm is enjoying a herd average of 11,500-litres at the Nettlecombe, Dorset-based farm. And its recent yield increases have been secured without compromising on welfare or animal health. According to farms manager Anthony Butler, one of the biggest improvements has come from a switch in the way the herd is fed. Mr Butler and his team have been creating bespoke feed rations for all livestock groups across the farm. “We have found that a consistent ration, fed in a timely manner, is vital to maintaining livestock condition and milk yields,” explains Mr Butler.
But the revised feeding focus has recently needed a rethink to keep up with demand. The farm had been using a trailed, 30 cubic metre capacity mixer wagon which offered enough capacity to feed 200 cows per load. And the strategy was to feed the herd with three mixes per day, with rations structured to benefit high yielders, mid-yielders and those heading towards the end of lactation.
Anthony Butler of Crutchley Farms is pleased with the feeder's efficiency.
But with about 650 cows constantly in milk and 480 young stock, the demands placed on equipment and the intensity of feeding meant that getting rations fed on time had become harder to achieve. “Complex rations meant mixing times had grown longer, we were over-processing rations and this meant that we were losing consistency while also slipping back on feed timing,” he says. “Cows were also getting hungry. So we took the decision to switch to half-loads to improve feed quality.”
He adds that one tractor was used exclusively for the mixer wagon and was clocking up 1,800 hours/year, while one of the farm’s two JCB telehandlers was spending most of its time loading the mixer wagon. As a result it was covering 2,000 hours/year and feeding had morphed into an all-day task for one member of staff.
Recognising that the feeding regime needed an overhaul, the farm looked at getting a replacement machine that could deliver the consistent high quality mix they sought. It was only while demonstrating a Kverneland Siloking trailed machine that Mr Butler was made aware of the productivity potential of a Siloking self-propelled feeder. And a week long demonstration from local dealer GCS Agricentre proved the worth of switching to a self-propelled feeder.
Anthony Butler says the diet feeder is more accurate than trying to tip ingredients from a telehandler bucket.
“It just wasn’t on my radar,” he says. “I didn’t think it was affordable or practical around our yards and buildings. But after a week of seeing how the machine performed, I could see the many benefits on offer. We could create consistent ration quality in much less time and with repeatable accuracy, which meant we could feed cows sooner,” he says. “All of a sudden, we could see huge efficiency gains with labour resources, and also with milk production.”
The demonstration machine was a 15-cubic metre Siloking Premium 2015 model, which uses a single vertical auger for mixing, and has been specified with left-hand and right-hand feed outlets.
After some conservative number-crunching over the cost of the feeder, Mr Anthony could see savings worth initially, around £30,000/year. “My figures were initially based on a three-year replacement plan that would see the trailed feeder replaced in year one, the tractor replaced in year two and the telehandler replaced in year three,” he explains. “It has been quite an eye-opener, and we are now looking at a five-year replacement plan for the self-propelled feeder.”
He says among the many benefits are shortened mixing and feeding times. “The milling head does some of the processing work that the mixing tub would have to do, and it leaves the clamp face so much tighter that we don’t get any secondary fermentation."
The milling head takes in exact amounts of each ration ingredient.
“The feeder continues to mix while moving around the yard collecting its ingredients. And its ability to self-load means we no longer need to use a telehandler as part of the feeding process.”
Mr Butler adds the milling head takes in exact amounts of each ration ingredient, which is much more accurate than trying to tip ingredients from a telehandler bucket. Having operated the self-propelled feeder for the last 12 months, is he still as convinced of its merits? “Our nutritionist believes it will be hard to improve upon what we now have,” he added. “There is no longer any variation in consistency or ration quality. The cows get the same high quality feed from the first handful to the last.”
Importantly, he says cows are now fed on time, and not kept waiting for food. The feeder’s AdBlue-equipped engine though, has recently given cause for concern, and put the machine temporarily out of action while its emissions system was rectified. “Kverneland and GCS supplied a replacement trailed machine to ensure we could continue to feed while the self-propelled was repaired,” he says. “And what it proved was both firms could back up the machine, without impacting on our feeding regime.”
When the last ingredient has been added, it takes just 90 seconds to finish mixing.
Time with a replacement feeder, albeit a trailed model, proved that running a self-propelled is far superior when it comes to logistics and efficiency. “I wouldn’t want to go back to a trailed feeder,” he says. “It is too slow.”
Crutchley Farms’ attention to detail is no different from racing teams looking for the smallest improvement - collectively, small improvements add up to considerable gains. “The self-propelled feeder takes just 30 minutes to fill, mix and empty, compared to taking 45 minutes to make exactly the same ration with our previous trailed feeder,” he says. “When the last ingredient has been added, it takes just 90 seconds to finish mixing, and the cows love the better quality food it produces. In addition, the improvement in logistics is considerable, and this frees up labour for other work.”
Mr Butler believes total machine hours will also be lower over the period of ownership. And completing each load in less time is also delivering a saving in diesel, worth a few thousand pounds. “Having just one self-propelled feeder doing 1,200 hours each year against a tractor and telehandler clocking up a total of 3,800 hours each year is a saving that cannot be over-looked.”