Aldbourne Chase Farm, Marlborough, Wilts

A high fibre content is now considered to be an important part of a diet if feed efficiency is to be maximised. As such, it is essential that a diet feeder can process straw so that it becomes an integral part of the ration. The beef enterprise on Aldbourne Chase Farms managed by David Armstrong involves the running of 150 pedigree South Devons and 90 Angus x Holstein suckler cows.

The resulting progeny is finished at about 750kgs at an age of about 18 to 20 months with some of the heifers sold or retained for breeding stock.

The farm, which is based at Woodsend, Aldbourne, near Marlborough, Wilts, majors in being self sufficient by providing home grown feed for the cattle and draws on the arable side of the business to provide it.

Running to a total of 2000 acres, the arable sector uses about 1500 acres to grow wheat, barley and oilseed rape while the remaining 500 acres is used to provide the winter forage and summer grazing for the cattle.

Having said that, each year sees 100 acres of grass and a similar acreage of maize rotated around the arable area.

"We calve in two nine week batches," explains Mr Armstrong. The heifer replacements calve in the autumn and the main herd in the spring."

This arrangement is designed to give the heifers an extra few months before they are put to the bull again and means that the bulls are run with the autumn calvers for nine weeks from the end of January and with the spring calvers for nine weeks from the end of May.

While the farm relies on grazing during the summer months, nutrition during the housed period is provided by home grown feed mixed by a Shelbourne Reynolds 19cu m, twin vertical auger Powermix.

"The diet feeder arrived at the beginning of the year and was responsible for feeding the cattle from day one," he says. "And I have to say that it has behaved impeccably without a hint of a problem."
 

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Powermix Pro 19cu m Feeder Wagon

One of the key points to keep under control is the weight of the Devon cows and, as a result, during the housed period they are fed a daily diet of straw mixed with 6kg of silage and minerals.

 

"This diet keeps them on the slim side and reduces any problems we may have had at calving," he explains. "When they have calved we reduce the straw which has been pretty much adlib to about 3kg and give them as much silage as they can clear up in a day."

With straw being a major ingredient it was important that the Shelbourne diet feeder was capable of chopping and handling what can be something of a tester for some makes of machine.

Mr Armstrong points out that on this score, the mixer has no problems what so ever in reducing whole bales of straw to a well chopped – but not over chopped - consistency that mixes readily with the other ingredients.

"One of the criticisms of the diets produced by the mixer the Shelbourne replaced was that the cattle used to pick through the diet," he says. "It wasn’t a mixed diet as such – more of a group of individual components in the same trough."

Autumn born calves are weaned in early August and the Spring calves in late September or early October. At weaning the calves are housed and fed a diet of grass silage, straw and minerals with the steers getting a boost of 4kgs/day of maize silage mixed in.

During the winter months a total of six loads a day need to be mixed which may seem to be a high number but is required due to the volume of straw being mixed.

"There is no way round it – what ever diet feeder you are using," he says. "The straw content does occupy a lot of space in the mixing chamber and it doesn’t weigh very much. Straw is important though and I am strong believer in providing plenty of fibre in a ration."

Three loads are put together for the dry cows, while another mix is made for the autumn calvers, another for the steers with their extra maize silage, and the sixth goes to the rearing stock.

Mr Armstrong says the straw goes in first – a Claas Quadrant square bale with its strings removed is simply dropped into the mixing hopper and left to chop and shred for about five minutes. The grass silage goes in next and then finally the minerals for a total mix time of between 10 – 15 minutes a load.

"As with all these machines it is possible to over mix but with a sensible operator we have very few problems," he says.

So what benefits has the Shelbourne Reynolds mixer wagon brought to the farm?

"To start with, the mixing time has been reduced by about a third which, at weekends can be a valuable saving in overtime payments during the course of a winter feed period," he says.

He adds that the ability to feed left or right over feed barriers has also simplified the job and reduced the need for some intricate reversing operations.

For the mixer itself, he pays tribute to the strength of the machine and the use of shafts and gear boxes to drive augers rather than chains used on earlier machines.

"It’s early days but all the signs are that the mixer will provide us with several years of good, trouble free service," he says. "And, equally important is that the cattle utilise the feed produced efficiently so that feed costs are reduced and production is maximised."

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