Feeding is one of the most time consuming but crucial tasks for any dairy farmer. Jane Carley finds out how one Cumbrian farming business is making the most of an automated feeding system.
For Cumbrian progressive family dairy farm, automating the feeding system has helped to increase milk yields and offered useful labour savings while meeting the needs of their pedigree Ayrshire herd.
The Mattinsons were the first in the UK to install Trioliet’s automated feeding system.
Spread over two units totalling 210 hectares, Rosewain is home to the young stock, while Bridge House houses 330 dairy cows in a purpose built dairy unit.
When the opportunity came to construct the new dairy facility, the family saw the opportunity for a new building on a greenfield site to incorporate automated feeding, to offer labour savings, improve productivity and cow health and lower the farm’s carbon footprint.
James Mattinson, who works alongside father Frank and brother Philip, says: “Previously we had used a tractor and feeder wagon in the usual way and my father spent all day feeding. “We went on a genetics trip to the Netherlands and saw a Trioliet feed kitchen system in action and were amazed at its efficiency and ease of use. It would not have been feasible to install at our previous farm, but the new build made it possible.”
The Mattinsons were able to incorporate the feed kitchen system, with its automated feeding robot and bunkers, into the design of the new building when it was commissioned in 2017.
“The cubicles and passageways were designed around it, and we realised that automation brought some advantages to the layout. As there is no need to get a tractor and feeder wagon round, feed alleyways can be narrower, allowing for increased scraper passage widths which was beneficial for the cows. Trioliet also collaborated on the design, helping to identify any awkward corners that would affect the running of the system.”
All operations including milking are in one building and the silage pit is immediately adjacent, making loading of the forage bunkers a quick job.
The Trioliet T30 Feed Kitchen is a four bunker system, each holding eight tonnes or 18cu.m of forage. This includes two different cuts of grass silage, maize and brewers’ grains, while an additional stainless steel sealed bunker handles root crops.
There is also a blend auger, three mineral bins and a water dispenser, all added in specific quantities to each group of cows’ bespoke recipe. Feed is used in a ‘first in, first out’ direction to the interior of the building, so there is no deterioration in forage quality.
“We program the recipes specific to each of the five groups in the building on a per headage basis, select the number of cows in that group and set the feed times. It is as simple as that,” says Mr Mattinson.
Recipes can be altered via an app on a mobile device, the interface in the building or from the farm office. The nutritionist can also log into a ‘team view’ system to discuss rations.
The Triomatic WP2 300 feeding robot is powered via an overhead rail and moves around the building on wheels, and features a 3cu.m tub with twin mixing augers. It is guided on its rail, reading tags on the pens which identify the groups of cattle and connects via in-built Wifi to the feed plan for that pen.
Feeding frequency has increased to 20 passes per day for the milking groups, distributing small amounts of feed, which Mr Mattinson describes as a ‘cow buffet’.
“You can set a feed plan per cow for as little as one cow in a pen, and as many recipes as you wish. Tap in the number of cows for that pen, and precisely the right amount for that pen is distributed. We have some show cattle and successfully fed them in pairs for the 2019 show season.”
“The cows are eating all day, so they never feel overfull, but intakes have increased. They eat and then come back for more, and as they know there is always fresh feed available, there is no bullying among the herd. When you go into the building it is noticeably quieter and the herd is very calm.”
He explains that the cows are fed in five groups according to yield, and previously low yielders were fed blended TMR to try to improve performance. “We have now found they are getting all the nutrients they need so we are less reliant on blends.”
Average intakes have increased by 8kg/head, and the fresh rations, kept within reach of the cows using a pusher on the side of the robot as it passes through the barn, minimise self-selection.
“We have seen yields increase by 1,000 litres per head over our previous unit, although of course the new building also plays an important role in that. But cow health has also improved, with digestive issues significantly reduced.”
Yields average 8,842 litres, with 4.65 per cent fat and 3.42 per cent protein. Milk goes to Arla as a dedicated Aldi supplier, and the improved welfare is an important benefit for that contract. “It also reduces our carbon footprint, being electrically powered, some of which is supplied by solar panels and from the farm’s wind turbine,” Mr Mattinson points out.
Grazing is also an important part of the regime. “The cows are grazed from April to October and housed at night, with the breed suited to convert grazed grass to milk. Thus robotic milking would not have suited our system, so automating the feeding is the way to save labour on the farm,” he explains.
Mr Mattinson comments that the workload has reduced considerably. “For example, we can load the bunkers on a Friday night and they will last all weekend. There is peace of mind because we have found it to be very accurate. Forage rations are calculated to the kg and minerals to the gram, and that is exactly what is delivered.”
He says it is difficult to pinpoint energy costs as the system uses a common supply with the rest of the farm, but suggests they are low. Servicing is carried out by local dealer G and A Wallace, and works out cheaper than the service costs on a conventional tractor and feed wagon.
Energy consumption is on average 10-15 kWh/day/100 cows. The investment for Triomatic automatic feeding starts at £150,000 and depends on the farm size and circumstances.
“Reliability has been very good. Any problems can be solved by our dealer or directly by Trioliet in Holland, as they can access the system at any time online.
“It is also flexible. We added the water dispenser 18 months ago, and the feed kitchen has the capacity for some 700 cows, although our building is designed for 350 and we are approaching that.
“Overall, it has been a great opportunity to improve our efficiency and boost herd productivity and welfare.”
Feeding frequency with the Triomatic robot has increased to 20 passes a day, so the cows always have fresh feed, increasing intakes and leading to a more contented herd.