By Wilfried Wesselink
Lely introduces automatic mixer/feeder/pusher
Next to milking, feed mixing and delivery are the most important—and time-consuming tasks—on most dairies.
Now Lely Industries, which specializes in robotic milking, introduces an all-in-one, hands-free machine that mixes, feeds and pushes total mixed rations (TMR). Called the Vector, it consists of a battery-powered mixer/feeder that sits atop Lely’s Juno robotic feed pusher.
The rotating skirt of the Juno pushes up feed at each pass, with fresh TMR delivered on top. The feed containment vessel is a vertical mixer auger with blades, a contra knife and a distributor roller.
The Vector has a feed capacity of just 2 cubic meters but delivers fresh feed eight to 12 times per day. "Bigger is not necessary, as feeding is continuous [throughout the day]," says Alexander van der Lely, CEO of Lely.
The amount of feed delivered is regulated by a sensor on the wagon that measures the height of the feed in the bunk, a weighing system and wagon speed. During the return run, the empty vehicle measures the feed heights of other groups to determine whether more feed is required.
The unit is designed to feed 250 to 300 cows. For larger herds, one unit can feed while a second is being refilled. Each unit can be programmed with up to 16 rations.
Technically, the Vector delivers a partial mixed ration (PMR). It works with robotic milkers that dispense grain and concentrate at each milking.
The machine is filled at a "feed kitchen," where the components of the PMR are inventoried. Each area has its own commodities—corn silage, haylage, chopped hay, brewers’ grains and so forth. A feed grabber hanging from a rail takes a bite of feed from each commodity bay and dumps it into the Vector. To speed mixing, the grabber takes alternative bites of each type of feed.
The farmer replenishes the inventory every day or two, depending on the amount fed, time of year and feed freshness. Mineral mixes and additional concentrate are augered from feed bins into the wagon.
|The Vector needs a 10'-wide alley to deliver feed. A grabber arm automatically scoops up commodities and delivers them to the Vector for mixing.
The robotic wagon has two rubber rear wheels that drive the unit and a castor front wheel. Ultrasonic sensors follow a wall, feedbunk or pipe. If these are not available, they follow a narrow metal strip on the floor.
A bumper switches the unit off if it encounters an obstacle. The Vector and grabber are controlled from a central station, and communication is via Bluetooth.
Lely dealers will determine the price, partly dependent on barn configuration, but van der Lely expects the system to cost about $130,000—competitive with conventional TMR mixer/tractor combinations, with the bonus of labor savings.
The company expects to install 40 systems in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Scandinavia this year and in other countries in 2013.