Watch Your Weight: Software Tracks Feed Deliveries

February 26, 2013 08:42 PM
Watch Your Weight: Software Tracks Feed Deliveries

Tracking loads that cross your dairy’s scale has never been more important

How many times have you found a charge on your feed bill for a load of feed that you have no record of? Did the load really come over your dairy’s truck scale? Was its weight ticket lost somewhere between the scale and your office? Or was human error the culprit in the wrong or missing information?

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Those kinds of problems rarely happen anymore on Cornell Kasbergen’s dairy near Tulare, Calif. Thanks to truck-scale automation software called WeighRite, Kasbergen’s 3,000-cow Rancho Teresita can automatically track and verify all of his incoming commodity shipments.

"It’s been worth it to have the program, to know when loads are delivered and exactly how many tons or pounds have crossed the scale," Kasbergen says.

With feed costs now accounting for 60% to 70% of inputs at many dairies, tracking every aspect of feed management has never been more important. Fortunately, technology is making it easier to micromanage expensive feed operations.

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The brains of the WeighRite system, this unit sits near the scale platform because it’s hard-wired to the weight-sending cells. It automatically converts the data from the scale and wirelessly transmits the information back to your office computer.

The WeighRite program is a good example. Its automated truck-scale technology has been around for nearly a decade, but the high cost of feed has recently heightened dairy producers’ interest in WeighRite. The program comes from Valley Ag Software, which also developed Dairy Comp 305, FeedWatch and Pocket CowCard software.

The WeighRite program records both incoming and outgoing shipment information when a truck pulls onto the scale. Weight in, weight out, time and date are wirelessly sent via a modem to your office computer.

"There’s no need to hand-key delivery information," says Manuel Soares, WeighRite’s project manager. "This system gives you accountability for incoming and outgoing commodities, verification of delivery and accurate tracking of contracts."

WeighRite acts as an automated shipping and receiving attendant. When a truck drives onto your farm’s scale with, for example, a load of ground corn, WeighRite prompts the driver to select what type of commodity he’s delivering and what company it’s from.

The driver uses what Valley Ag Software calls a "Passport" to pass through the scale. It’s a wireless hand-held device, much like a remote control, that communicates with WeighRite’s receiving unit inside the scale house.

"The truck driver can stay in his cab when he gets to your scale," Soares says.

Once the driver has delivered the load of ground corn to your commodity area, he then returns to the scale and weighs out. Afterward, the WeighRite system prints out two tickets, one for the driver’s records and one for your dairy’s office.

The program tracks more than commodity shipments. It can do the same for loads of cattle, milk and even harvested silage from your fields.

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WeighRite’s outside display allows the truck driver to confirm his truck weight and specific commodity along with other "Passport" selections, without leaving the cab. Insert: Valley Ag Software’s Manuel Soares, who helped develop the WeighRite program.

Beyond acting as a scale attendant, WeighRite also helps control inventories by providing several detailed reports. It can tell how much weight you have on hand in your inventory, allowing you to monitor when a feed commodity is getting low. It can also tell you the cost of your individual and total commodities.

"Whenever you purchase or sell a commodity, WeighRite will adjust your inventory values to give you accurate figures," Soares says.

The cost of a WeighRite system, depending on the setup, is about $12,000, he estimates. That includes a scale, software, display unit, modems and five "Passport" or remote control devices for drivers. It works in conjunction with your office computer.

Not surprisingly, WeighRite can be integrated with Valley Ag Software’s FeedWatch program, but it can also operate as a stand-alone program.

Make Way for High-Tech Feed Management

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The complexity of feed management and the expanding technology that delivers greater amounts of data are changing how dairies manage their operations. Using old-school weigh tags for commodity deliveries and reconciling shipments by hand may soon be obsolete. Used correctly, integrated feed programs could pay for themselves quickly. But, like any other specialized job, the right person is needed. 

For California dairy producer Cornell Kasbergen, feed management technology has become valuable enough that it may merit a full-time job for a dairy employee. He’s considering hiring a dedicated manager to focus on all areas of his dairy’s feed operations and to manage those integrated software programs effectively.

"One big issue is feed shrink," Kasbergen says. "It’s a huge area, one that we’ve been missing. With all the data they collect, integrated software programs like WeighRite and FeedWatch offer a lot of potential to manage shrink."

Valley Ag Software’s Manuel Soares understands that. He grew up on his family’s dairy and later managed a large California dairy before joining Valley Ag Software, where he’s helped develop software programs used by dairies.

Soares visits dairies across the U.S. and still finds plenty of loosely managed commodity areas. When he sees corn, soybean meal and other commodities blowing out of commodity bays or spilling out of loaders and mixers, he equates that to throwing away hundreds of $20 bills at a time.

"WeighRite, FeedWatch and other technology allow you to capture as much information as possible to make sure your profits aren’t being lost by lack of control," Soares says. "These days, feed is cash."

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