Sales of winter-feeding equipment like diet feeders and straw blowers have been absolutely flying in recent years, according to industry sources from the Irish machinery trade.
It appears farmers are looking to technology in a bid to stretch existing fodder and bedding reserves.
If you are on the market for a new or second-hand diet feeder, there can be a lot of confusing terminology out there. You need to know the ins and outs of what type of feeder will suit your particular farm.
You also need to have at least a rough idea of what the cost of running the feeder will be each year, otherwise the tactic of using a mixer wagon to stretch feed resources will backfire spectacularly through hidden costs. The cost is perhaps best worked out on a per animal basis and will depend on the initial price of the machine, the annual depreciation and maintenance costs, and the length of time you intend to keep the feeder for (see Table 2).
Farmer-spec diet feeders can be crudely classified as being from one of two camps: they use either a paddle or tub design to chop and feed the ration mix. In recent times there has been a few sales of bigger self-propelled style feeders, but these are only financially viable in the biggest feed lots in the country.
A typical wagon has three main components: floor conveyor, mixing system and the unloading conveyor. Feed discharge location and height is important when choosing a wagon to match a feed passage. If you are looking to buy a mixer wagon, there are certain things to look out for. Be sure to ask your dealer the following questions:
• Where is it made? (Buy Irish if possible)
• What is the required horsepower to drive the mixer wagon?
• Can the machine handle a wide range of feeds?
• Is the discharge to the rear, front left or right? Can this be changed?
• Is there a two-speed gearbox in the machine for mixing heavy loads?
• Is the machine designed in a way that minimises the occurrence of dead spots (places where concentrates and other components of the ration can linger)?
• Does the machine come with an on-board weighing system?
• What about lighting set up for dark winter road journeys?
• Will the unloading height of the wagon be suitable for my feed bunkers?
• What is the service interval and what are the maintenance costs involved?
The Horizontal Auger feeders
The paddle type mixer can be thought of as being a horizontal auger feeder. These are a very common sight throughout Irish farmyards. Typically, these feeders will have a length that is three times their diameter. The horizontal auger feeder is more suitable to the farmer who has easy to access sheds and wide passages that can be entered from either end. It also offers bigger capacity and is favoured by those with larger number of mouths to feed.
This type of wagon gets its name from having a big, horizontally mounted central rotor. The rotor generally turns at low rpm, lifting and turning the material and moving it from one end of the machine to the other. This mixing system requires less horsepower than other designs and produces a lighter resultant feed.
For an average sized horizontal auger feeder (say 12-14 cubic metre capacity) you will need to have a 100 horsepower tractor. However with some feeders that are even twice as big as this, the maximum horsepower required generally does not exceed 130-140hp. In such large machines the limiting factor is often the weight of the load rather than the power required to operate the feeder itself.
Vertical Auger Feeders (Tub Feeders)
These machines mostly use either a single or twin auger, mounted vertically in the centre of the hopper. This type of feeder has experienced a surge in popularity over the last ten years. They are more versatile and seem to be the better option for farmers feeding into old narrow passageways and harder to access buildings. This is very much the case for many yards around the country that were designed and built some years ago.
The ability to handle baled material was the initial attraction of the tub feeder. Power requirements for this feeder can be higher than that required for others. Another consideration is loading height.
Due to engineering design, tub feeders are inherently taller machines than paddle feeders. Have you got the loading equipment to deal with this?