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Choosing the right feed mixer

Karma M. Fitzgerald for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 June 2020
Vertical mixer

There’s an old adage in the feed business. It goes: “There are four rations: the ration on paper, the ration that gets mixed, the ration that gets delivered and the ration that gets consumed.”

The challenge for producers is keeping “ration No. 4” as close to “ration No. 1” as possible. A significant part of that challenge is choosing the right feed mixing system.

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“Time is key,” says Brent Peterson, a salesperson with Intermountain New Holland of Heyburn, Idaho, which sells feed mixing systems. “Choices are made on feeding conditions, and that includes distances between feed sources and mangers.” Other points to consider, Peterson says, are costs, ration mixing times, travel conditions and just simple logistics such as: Can the equipment get where it needs to go?

Curtis Taylor of Willow Creek Feedlot feeds 10,000 head of beef on a steep hillside south of Burley, Idaho. While he’d prefer to use vertical mixing boxes mounted on a truck, the slope of his feed lanes makes that impossible. Instead, he runs four vertical mixers pulled by tractors.

“We trade the mixers off every three years or so,” Taylor says. He says some loads have to travel over a mile between the commodity bays and the bunk lines, which can take seven to eight minutes.

For the time being, Taylor has no plans to change feeding systems. “We will stay where we are at. Eventually, we might look at a batch box,” he says. That’s the switch Heglar Creek Farms made about eight months ago, according to farm manager Austin Hyde.

Hyde feeds 12,000 head of cattle each day, both beef and dairy, at the operation near Declo, Idaho. In batch box systems, feed is mixed in a stationary container, which allows all ingredients to be added in and measured before being dumped into a mixer and then delivered out to bunk lines.

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Proponents of the system say the batch box method prevents shrinkage, overmixing and provides a more consistent ration to cattle with less wear and tear on moving mixer boxes. That’s exactly the result Hyde is seeing at Heglar Creek. He says they’ve also cut feed time and labor costs. “It’s been a pretty big change,” Hyde says. “We’re down from 12 hours to 10 hours a day feed time.” That, in turn, has given employees more time to maintain the equipment, and they’re more relaxed and more efficient, Hyde says.

Mireille Chahine, Ph.D, is an extension dairy specialist with the University of Idaho. She says feed systems like the batch boxes or stationary mixers have less shrinkage than moving mixing systems. “It could be significant,” she says. “The reduction could be between 5 to 10 percent.”

Both the batch and stationary systems can be expensive to install, and not all producers have locations that will work with either system.

Josh Lund is a farm manager with J3 Dairies near Wendell, Idaho. He says hauling with tractor-pulled delivery boxes wouldn’t be safe for employees, who would have to drive down a busy road between locations. He’s currently running two vertical truck-mount mixers to feed 2,000 head. He says they used to use horizontal boxes, but the verticals have been better for the ration they feed. “These are better to mix the hay into the feed. They cut it down to the right size.”

Kallan Rex, general manager at P Bar S Dairy in Malta, Idaho, feeds 9,000 head with two truck-mounted vertical mixers. He has one employee loading two mixers while another delivers the feed to his bunk lines. He says the system has been working well, although he sometimes has troubles with DEF systems on his feed trucks. “The trucks aren’t made to sit stationary,” he says. Still, he is researching other options, including a stationary mixer or batch box. “I think it’s gotta be cheaper to mix with electricity than with diesel.”

No matter what the method, Richard Norell, also a University of Idaho Extension dairy specialist, says choosing a mixer-feeder system is about getting the “right feed to the right cows in the right amount in the right form.” He says producers should look for equipment dealers who have a good track record and who are willing to bring their talent to the farm to train employees and have local service technicians who can help with breakdowns.

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Chahine recommends taking samples from 10 different spots in the bunk line and looking for any inconsistencies. “If one cow is just getting hay, and another is just getting corn, that could lead to metabolic issues.” She suggested producers find a method of evaluating the effectiveness of the feed method they choose. “If you can’t measure, you can’t manage,” Chahine says. end mark

Karma M. Fitzgerald is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

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