Many suppliers believe self-
propelled diet feeders will
soon become as common
as a telehandler on dairy
farms. Mervyn Bailey finds
out one farms experience
with one of the machines
BUYING a £50,000 self-propelled diet feeder for 170 cows may sound excessive, but at the time Frank and Tim Juckes had many more hungry mouths to feed.
"We started a diet feeder contracting business a number of years ago, using a tractor and trailed machine," says Frank.
"But switching to the self-loading, self-propelled feeder enabled us to reduce this to a one machine operation and use the loader tractor for other farm work."
The 14cu m Mutti Rollercar was ideal for feeding more than 1100 animals on several farms, adds Tim.
"The only problem was it took too long to get from farm to farm and we had many complaints from motorists about a slow moving vehicle being on a busy road at 8am," he says. "Nor is the hydrostatic drive ideal for long distance road travel."
As a result, the contract service was wound up and Tredington Farm, Tewkesbury, Glos, now has the luxury of using a self-propelled machine to feed its 170-cow dairy herd.
"Ideally, this machine needs more than 400 cows to make it economical. But we decided to keep it because we like the way it does the job," says Tim.
The sheer price of a self-propelled diet feeder is a major stumbling block for many producers. They are clearly designed for feeding a large number of cattle over a long working season.
Ranging from 11 to 21cu m capacity, there are machines to suit most needs and companies that market them in the UK have high hopes for increased sales as herd sizes grow.
With infinite speed control from hydrostatic drive, a low-slung cab which allows operators to hop on and off to open gates and doors and good manoeuvrability, these machines are claimed to have many operational advantages.
Moreover, they can reduce the number of machines involved in preparing and dispensing mixed rations, especially when equipped with a self-loading system. The farms telehandler or tractor-loader can be free to work on other tasks or enjoy a reduced workload.
In some circumstances, the telehandler could be traded in to help offset the cost of a self-propelled feeder and be replaced by a tractor-mounted loader.
There are, however, risks attached to focusing on a single machine, such as being totally reliant on a combined power unit, feeding and loading vehicle. And a tractor can be used for many other tasks throughout the year.
But a tidy clamp face is a further bonus of self-loading feeders. Fitted with a bladed rotor, which cuts a vertical channel of silage from bottom to top, they leave an even surface that reduces the risk of spoilage. This is an advantage the Juckes customers particularly appreciated.
"A tonne of silage can be cut out and loaded in less than two minutes, which is quicker than most loaders using a shear grab and is kinder to the mixing auger," says Frank.
With the herd split into three feeding groups, the 14cu m vertical tub can mix enough feed for each batch of cows without the need to make up part-loads.
Current rations include grass and maize silage, plus a pre-mix of soya, rape, rolled wheat, sugar beet, minerals and molasses. This comes from a neighbouring producer who buys the ingredients in bulk and then mixes it for a number of farms.
The feeder can also load itself with roots and straw, although this calls for some caution to prevent stones or large lumps of straw entering and damaging or plugging the intake conveyor.
"Mixing time is minimal because the central auger starts blending while the tub fills. By the time the Rollercar has been positioned alongside the trough, the ration is ready to be dispensed," says Frank.
"As a machine for feeding cows, it simply cannot be beaten. But it does need to be kept busy to be economic."
Maintenance has also proved to be relatively straightforward, adds Tim. The loading rotor blades need replacing only when damaged by stones from beet or an eroded silage clamp floor. There are also plenty of grease points dotted about the feeder to make sure all the moving parts keep moving.
"The machine is fairly forgiving if it is mistreated because of the hydraulics, which are ideal as long as you keep an eye on oil levels. When you drive into the pit face a bit too fast the rotor simply stops turning, so it is difficult to do any real harm."
Once in action, all the operator has to do is watch the scales and ensure the correct proportions of feed are being mixed. The feeder itself looks after all other issues. *
Tim Juckes and his father Frank have been operating their hydrostatic drive self-propelled diet feeder for more than two years
and have been impressed by its capabilities.
King Feeders 01260-223273 Zargo King Feeder
K&K Whistance 01981-540870Mutti International
RMH UK 01256-850777
• Expensive machine to buy.
• Can save on loader.
• Maintenance simple.