3C & ME

When four dairy farmers wanted to cut their feeding costs they decided to purchase a mixer wagon and a tractor and share the running costs between them. Should you ever come face to face with a farming co-operative called the 3C & ME don't hesitate to inquire how it acquired such a name. You will be told, hopefully, that it is formed by taking the first letter of four Wiltshire villages - Calstone, Cherhill, Compton Bassett and Mile Elm. And before you can ask why, some one will tell you that in each of these four villages there is a member of the co-operative who has a dairy farm and has a part share in the running of a mixer wagon. 3C & ME was formed four years ago by a group of dairy farmers who were anxious to reduce their feed costs - not by what they fed their cows but with what they used to feed them with.

undefinedRob Hislop, who runs 200 cows at Calstone explains: "Before we started the group I was running a mixer wagon which was pretty worn out and needed replacing, Rob Pickford also had a tired feeder but a modern tractor to feed his 170 cows at his Cherhill farm, Charles Reis at Compton Bassett had a new feeder and tractor for his 200 cows and, Jane Lewis at Mile Elm didn't possess a feeder at all for her 200 cows.

"We sat around the table and discussed the possibility of pooling resources so that one tractor and one mixer wagon could serve all four farms. "It proved to be an interesting discussion - factors such as distance between farms, how should running costs be apportioned to each farm, who should be operating the machine and so on. "It was not as simple to work out as we first imagined," says Rob Pickford. "We were anxious to be fair but we all well aware that if we got it wrong there could be a disaster in the offing - for all of us. "After much deliberation it was decided to start a new company which, as we now know, is called the 3C & ME co-operative and this company would buy the new feeder currently owned by Charles Reis and the new tractor owned by Rob Pickford. To operate the machine a contractor was employed for the half day it took to get round the four farms each day. "The whole idea of the scheme was to release capital which could be used in a group member's own business," explains Rob Hislop. "If the scheme could be run successfully with labour better employed then it was clearly a good move.

"That was four years ago and all parties appear to agree that everything has gone reasonably well. A year ago, as planned, the diet feeder was exchanged for a new 22 cu m Shelbourne Reynolds' Powermix diet feeder - a two auger, tandem axle machine for which the company has a lease hire agreement. The mixer wagon starts its morning feed round at Mile Elm before moving on to Compton Bassett, Cherhill and then Calstone - a distance of about 15 miles.

undefinedEvery day the machine is responsible for feeding 800 cows. At each farm there is a different diet to formulate - each of the member farmers having their own preferences in this department - and the operator is provided with daily instructions on how much of each ingredient to use. The main stay of all the rations mixed is clamped silage along with a percentage of straw. Some members provide feed in the parlour while others have groups of high and lower yielders - it all adds up to a different feeding regime on each farm. Each farm's layout is also different making it essential to have the mixer wagon capable of feeding to both the left and right hand side. "Because we are charged on how much time the machine and operator spends on our farms we try and speed the job up by cutting the silage from the clamp and pre-mixing straights before the feeder arrives so all the operator has to do is load it up with a bucket," explains Rob Hislop.

 "It's quite amazing how efficient you can make the job when there is money involved. "With such a large number of cows to feed each day - during the winter up to 30 tonnes of feed in five or six batches are fed each day and the work continues throughout the year with buffer feeding duties - the demands made on the Powermix is understandably high. "It's got to be one of the hardest worked machines on the farms," says Rob Hislop. "And, to date, it has done a good reliable job with no problems what so ever. More importantly, it mixes and chops well to produce a good palatable feed."

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