Evershot Farms, Dorset, UK.

As dairy herds get bigger their reliance on mixer wagons to provide accurately mixed rations becomes ever greater. Further more they need to be able to do it day after day. We take a look at two of Velcourt's Dorset-based dairy farms which opted to use large twin auger machines. Maximising milk yields - but not at the expense of extra cost - is the aim of many of the UK's dairy farms. It is a message not lost on two of Velcourt's dairy units based in Dorset - one at Melbury and the other an hour's drive away in Abbotsbury.

These two farms milk over 1500 cows three times a day and, despite such high cow numbers, boast a herd average in excess of 10,000 litres and fat and protein levels of about 3.95% and 3.3%. At Melbury 700 cows are milked in three separate units and at Abbotsbury the 800 cows are split into two units. Both farms are on heavy clay soil and enjoy temperate climates which, while allowing grass and forage maize to be grown in abundance also combine to encourage the permanent housing of the cows. "Apart from the problems of excessive pasture damage from poaching, grazing the cows means we have little control over their feed intake," explains Melbury manager Allaster Dallas. "It makes so much more sense to mix and bring the rations to them. "Mark Ward, manager of the Abbotsbury unit agrees. "A few years ago when we used to graze the cows milk yield always dropped as soon as they were turned out," he says. With such a dependence on providing all-year-round mixed rations, selection of a mixer wagon takes on a certain precedence - not only does it have to be reliable and capable of chopping and mixing a wide range of ingredients, it has to have sufficient volume to make feeding so many cows a viable operation. Two feeders were purchased - both of them a 22cu m twin auger Powermix 11 made by Shelbourne Reynolds on the basis that each farm would only require the one machine.

A year and a half down the line and both managers report that their mixers are continuing to work well - despite there not being a day when they have not been used to mix up to nine loads a day. Melbury's machine has the added chore of delivering feed mixes to a farm which is over seven miles away from the main mixing site - trips which see it travelling about 30 miles/day or over 10,000 miles each year. And at Abbotsbury the Powermix diet feeder, apart from its more normal ration mixing duties, is also used to batch-mix a week's supply of concentrates to prevent the operator having to spend time picking up small amounts each time he makes up a mix. "We also use it to cart silage in to the mixing area from out lying clamps," points out Mr Ward. But it is the ability of the machines to process a wide range of ingredients - including big bales - and mix them accurately day after day, which is considered to be their greatest attribute. Loaded by a telehandler with each ingredient's weight shown in large numbers on the control screen, feeding at each farm takes about four hours a day.Features such as being able to feed out to both the left and the right side of the mixer - and raise the conveyor so that feed can be delivered over the sides of troughs, are also considered essential. Both farms feed according to milk yield - and their stage of lactation - with no parlour feeding. High yielders, mid-term and low yielders receive rations formulated to provide about 47 litres, 36 litres and 25 litres respectively. Typical ingredients include grass and maize silage, cracker nuts, oilseed rape meal, sugar beet pulp, molasses and minerals.

"Our reliance on a feeder wagon is total," says Mr Ward. "It is probably the hardest working piece of machinery on the farm - the Powermix fits the bill.

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