Mix It Up

December 13, 2008 09:39 AM

Taking advantage of lower-cost byproduct feeds or even using your own grain makes an appealing option for feeding cattle. The challenge lies in getting that feed formulated and mixed correctly for the type of cattle you feed.

Bonus Content:

Follow this link to read
"Design, Selection and Use of TMR Mixers," by David W. Kammel, University of Wisconsin.

Cattle gain more efficiently when fed a consistent ration, which is difficult to achieve if you layer or hand-mix feed ingredients and then simply drop the mix into a feed wagon that doesn't mix up the ration. That's why it may be time for you to consider a feed mixer if you're feeding calves or younger cattle this year.

Ration quality control is an important component of feeding cattle, says John Wagner, Colorado State University animal scientist and general manager of Southeastern Colorado Research Center. "Providing cattle with properly formulated and mixed diets is critical in maintaining uniform levels of feed intake and optimal performance."

He points to research conducted several years ago in South Dakota that found heifers consuming a completely mixed diet gained weight 10% more rapidly and converted feed 10% more efficiently than heifers consuming a diet where the ingredients were layered in the feed bunk.

Put pencil to paper. A truck- or trailer-mounted feed mixer may seem like a luxury, but research shows that the right feed mixer can make economic sense.

Nearly 20 years ago, Wagner, while at South Dakota State University, did an economic analysis of mixing equipment use. In short, he found that it would take a minimum of 114 head on feed for 133 days each year to pay the annual cost of the feed mixer. That was based on a list price of $12,779 for a mixer wagon equipped with electronic scale and other options. Annual ownership and repair costs equaled $2,356.

Jeff Pastoor, senior cattle consultant with Land O'Lakes, put today's pricing to Wagner's research. In that 133-day trial, at current market prices, you would need to feed 104 head each year to make the purchase of an auger mixer feeder wagon economical. That was based on a good used Kuhn Knight auger mixer priced at $16,500 with $3,000 per year allocated for depreciation, insurance and repairs.

Pastoor says even pricing a newer Kuhn Knight auger mixer sized for the farmer-feeder would be $25,000. Annual ownership is about $4,000, and you would need 135 head on feed for 133 days to pay for it.

Features to consider. Different feed mixer manufacturers have a number of options and types of feed mixers for cattle producers to consider.

However, Wagner and Pastoor agree that cattle producers need to purchase the scale package in order to provide consistent rations to cattle. The idea of using a mixer wagon is to consistently deliver nutrients to the rumen every time, Pastoor says.

"Not having the scales [on a mixer] is like buying a planter without a monitoring system," Pastoor explains. "It just doesn't make sense."

The other important consideration is to size the wagon or feed truck properly for your operation. A mixer wagon that is too small will result in mixing more batches to produce the same amount of feed, resulting in extra labor, maintenance and fuel costs. The dealer or manufacturer can help you determine the appropriate size for your operation.

David W. Kammel, with the Biological Systems Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin, gives producers other questions to answer:

  • What kinds of feeds are in my ration?
  • Will the mixer be able to provide a uniform mix with my ration?
  • Can this mixer incorporate the amount of dry hay needed in the ration?
  • How many hours per day will the mixer be used?
  • Is there local service?
  • Is the mixer well built?
  • Is the mixer available on a trailer or truck mount?
  • What kind of scale is available?
  • Are there other mixers of this brand close by that I can inspect or get references about?
  • What other options are needed?
  • What is my budget?

Quality control. Wagner also evaluated three feed mixing wagons back in 1993—a poor-condition triple auger (PCA), a good-condition triple auger (GCA) and a new reel type (RT) mixer. The objective was to see how effective the three wagons were in mixing two different ration types. The diets were a grower diet with 37.14% ground hay and 62.86% concentrate and a finisher diet with 10.22% ground hay and 89.78% concentrate on a dry matter basis. The concentrate included whole shelled corn, high-moisture ear corn and pelleted and liquid supplements.

The PCA required 8 minutes to mix both the finisher and grower diets. The GCA mixer required 2 minutes for the grower diet and 4 minutes for the finisher diet. And the RT mixer required 6 minutes for the grower diet and 4 minutes for the finisher diet.

Wagner says the results show that each feed mixer and ration type should be evaluated to determine optimum mixing time. This is also something to consider if buying used equipment or if you're using older equipment that may need repair. BT


Farm Journal has recently launched MyMachinery.com, a new agricultural equipment-focused Web site, powered by FastLine. The site makes it easy to buy and sell new and used machinery, locate dealers, appraise equipment, research machines, find salvage parts and learn the latest machinery news. In addition, visitors can read insightful blogs, take part in online discussions and watch videos. To find feed mixers, click on "Livestock and Manure Handling" and choose the "Feed Grinder/Mixers" category. 


U.S. livestock machinery varies by region. David W. Kammel, University of Wisconsin, gives some definitions of the mixer design options for cattlemen.

Horizontal Auger Mixers
The mixer uses one, two, three or four augers to churn the feed in a hopper. The feed mixes as it moves along the flighting of the auger(s).

Reel Mixer
The mixer combines a set of augers and a reel, similar to a combine reel, in a hopper. Feed is lifted and tumbled by the reel, which moves it to the rotating augers. This provides the mixing action, moving feed from end to end and ultimately to the discharge door.

Tumble Mixer
The mixer is a large drum with spirals and/or pans on the interior circumference of the drum to lift and tumble the ration. A central auger moves feed from end to end and to the discharge area. A large part of the drum opens like a door to allow the ration to be loaded with a skid steer or loader bucket.

Chain and Paddle
The mixer uses a tub or box containing a chain and paddles or slat conveyor to tumble the feed ingredients within the tub end to end. An auger at the front of the mixer provides additional mixing and moves material to the discharge.

Vertical Screw Mixer
The mixer consists of a large tub with a single vertical tapered screw centered in the tub. A planetary gearbox and transmission drives the screw. Knife sections are attached to the flighting to cut feed materials.

Mixer Cart
Mixing carts are scaled-down versions of some of the designs discussed above. There are chain and paddle, tumble, and reel mixer cart designs on the market. Sizes range from 40 to 80 cu. ft. They usually are powered by a small 8-hp to 18-hp gas engine. They are used when a smaller volume of feed is needed.

Contact Kim Watson at kwatson@farmjournal.com.

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