Mixer wagons may be an essential tool for many dairy farmers, but they’re not exactly high-tech pieces of machinery. However that’s all beginning to change, with makers coming up with sophisticated systems for getting exactly the right mix of ingredients in the cows’ rations.
Now Irish maker Keenan seems to have stolen a march on its competitors by offering two new facilities on its high-tech iKeenan model – a mixer wagon that knows when to stop and, more surprisingly, a mixer wagon that can talk to its maker.
The first of these – called Autostop – takes automation a step further by automatically shutting down the pto drive to the mixer wagon as soon as the required number of paddle revolutions has been completed.
It can be fitted to any tractor that has a pto button on the rear mudguard. Once the right number of rotations has been reached, the PACE control box sends a signal to activate a solenoid that then pushes the pto stop button.
The Autostop facility means that farm staff can leave the mixer wagon to do its stuff without worrying that it will overmix the ration. It will also prevent all those unnecessary extra paddle revolutions at full load and could thereby save £1000 in fuel every year, says Keenan’s innovation director John McCurdy.
Getting exactly the right ration for cows is an ultra- precise business these days, says Mr McCurdy. Unlike humans, cows do best when their food is exactly the same each day, but achieving that goal can be difficult.
Enter the new PACE Connect system. This involves a direct wireless link between the PACE control box on the front of the mixer wagon and Keenan’s own servers via the GPRS mobile phone network.
Information can travel both ways, says Mr McCurdy. For instance, a farmer’s nutritionist can send a revised ration suggestion straight to the mixer wagon. When the operator switches the machine on before using it, a message appears on the PACE control box asking him if he wants to accept the new diet formulation.
Equally, information on the number of loads mixed, ingredients used, target quantity and number of rotations from the mixer wagon can be sent back to Keenan, so the same nutritionist can spot if anything can be improved.
iKeenan Smartphone app
While having detailed data on the exact formulation of cows’ rations is vital, information on the milk yields themselves also needs to be taken into account. That’s not so easy at the moment , says Mr McCurdy, as it involves farmers having to take a memory stick to the farm computer and send the information over manually.
But a new app that can be used on both iPhones and Android-based smartphones could help. It allows information on milk yields, fat and protein %, lactation stage and milk price to be quickly tapped into the phone while you’re in the parlour or the farmyard.
That information then goes to either Keenan’s nutritionists or to your own nutritionist. What you get back is feed conversion efficiency, margin over concentrates and cost/litre. It’s also emailed to you.
Cost of the iKeenan package (ie PACE Connect + Autostop) is £4500 if you’re buying it on a new machine.