New technology is a key ingredient for successful livestock businesses and one emerging technology currently generating interest is robotic total mixed ration feeders.

Replacing mixer wagons with automated systems is becoming more attractive as the technology becomes more reliable and cost effective. However, the most attractive feature is the promised lower feeding costs.

See also: Dairy bull calves achieving ‘amazing’ gains

There will be no shortage of interest at this year’s Livestock Event, with the world’s first combined robotic milking and feeding demonstration. In addition, another Dutch system is making its UK debut.

Here we take a look what they offer, how they work and their benefits.

Lely Vector (pictured above)

What is it?

The live demonstration at the Livestock Event will comprise a group of 40 cows being milked by a Lely Astronaut A4 robotic milker and fed by the company’s Vector feeding system, which features a mobile, battery-powered, self-contained feeder.

How does it work?

The Vector system comprises three components, the “feed kitchen”, a crane and the mix feed robot (MFR), explains Ben Norris, Lely Vector commercial product manager. “The crane system being installed in the NEC is the gantry system, as we can’t attach it to the building frame, while the bridge system is more appropriate for UK farms.”

The crane grabber selects the forage using 3-D imaging of the feed material in a preprogrammed order and drops it into the MFR, which has a 2cu m capacity, and an auger mixes the contents. Dry premix is added using a separate auger.

The MFR is guided along a preprogrammed route in the feed area, using metal strips set in the ground or using ultrasound. The ultrasound sensors work out its location and distance from the barrier.

One key difference is that the system works on demand rather than according to a timetable.

On its second pass along the feed passage to push feed up, the MFR uses a laser to estimate the amount of feed left. If it is insufficient, the robot will go back to the kitchen and make another batch.

What are the building requirements?

The machine needs only a feed passage width of 3.25m.

What are the benefits?

According to figures produced by Lely, the daily running costs of the Vector are 22% cheaper when compared with feeding manually from a wagon. Mr Norris points outs that there is also a sufficient fuel saving with the Vector.

Feed is fresh and cows naturally will feed eight to 10 times a day. By more closely mimicking this natural behaviour, farmers could see more efficient rumen and overall health benefits.

What is the cost?

Cost about £110,000 based on 300-cow herd.

Trioliet T30

Being featured at the Livestock Event is the system from the family business Trioliet, which is based on a overhead gantry system.

Trioliet-feeder

What is it?

The Triomatic T30 system is a suspended, automated feeding system, powered by the overhead rail, explains Matthew Sillifant of Trioliet. There are about 80 units globally and the firm has now broken into the UK market, with the first systems being installed in late 2014 and commissioned early 2015.

How does it work?

The Triomatic T30 is a combination of a feeding robot and a feed kitchen comprising several hygienic and self-cleaning feed bunkers. The feeding robot is loaded from the bunkers, which are hydraulically powered and suitable for all feed types to within 1kg/ration.

The suspended mixer, with a 3cu m capacity, continually mixes with two augers to ensure a consistent mix. A standard setup has three to five bunkers plus powder/mineral and liquid dispensers, giving an infinite amount of feed blends, says Mr Sillifant. A computer programme controls the whole system.

Building requirements

About half of the systems being built are being retrofitted to existing buildings and the factor for its suitability is whether it will fit in the existing barn, as it is not suited for low, wooden cow kennels. It needs a height of at least 2.8m, Mr Sillifant explains.

Benefits

Over a 10-year period, Mr Sillifant believes the system will halve the cost of feeding, mostly down to the saving in energy consumption and labour.

In addition, fresh food can be provided up to 24 times per feed group in a 24-hour period, which results in cattle being constantly stimulated to ingest the food. It sweeps over the feed area each time, so cattle are presented with fresh feed.

Feeding more often than the typical twice a day with mixer wagons helps to reduce rumen upset, with fewer fluctuations in rumen pH, he adds.

Cost

The T30 costs about £150,000 for a system (excluding building costs) which can feed up to 600 animals. The Triolet T30 constantly stimulates cattle to ingest food.

The Lely Vector works on demand rather than according to a timetable.

See also: All the news from the Livestock Event