Feeder forms part of veterinary unitís overhaul

The dairy unit used to train students as part of one of the UK’s most respected veterinary schools has undergone a transformation over the past five years, with changes covering everything from new management to new infrastructure. At the same time, TMR feeding has become the responsibility of a Shelbourne Reynolds twin auger machine, taking the place of a paddle-type feeder.

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The unit at Wyndhurst Farm is part of the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences, and its job is to act as a key resource for the training of veterinary students, while also performing as an economically-viable enterprise. Five years ago a review of the University’s management policy led to farm management company Velcourt being contracted to run the unit, but that did not signal a step back from the farm’s role in student education, or its importance to the University and its veterinary school.

On the contrary, since then, herd size has doubled, a number of new buildings have been erected and total mixed ration feeding for the year-round housed herd has become the responsibility of a Shelbourne Reynolds Powermix Pro 19 twin-auger diet feeder.

“When I came here at the same time we were appointed to manage the unit, there was a herd of 100 Holsteins,” explains Velcourt farm manager, David Hichens, who runs the unit with a herdsman and one other member of staff.

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“The University decided that, in order to provide the best possible facilities and training for the students, expansion and investment were essential. That led to us doubling the herd size to 200 head over the next few years, while there was also a significant investment in new buildings.”

But it’s investment in feeding which has also helped the herd to reach its current impressive average of 9,500 litres at 4% butterfat and 3.3% protein, with milk supplied for bottling to Muller Wiseman at Bridgewater

“Protein is a measure of energy and health, and that’s our focus,” says David.

“In-milk cows are housed all year round, so good quality housing and feeding facilities are particularly important. When I came here, we were using a paddle feeder, but a need to process bales and improve the consistency of the ration meant we switched to an auger-based machine.

“That was a Shelbourne Powermix, and since then we have stuck with them, as they’ve proved themselves reliable, solid and effective. As the herd expanded we moved from a single auger 13 cu m machine to the 19 cu m twin auger model we run today.”

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Aside from youngstock and dry cow grazing, the 110ha (275ac) farm provides 40ha of grass for silage, 36ha of maize and 15ha of wholecrop wheat, with some land double-cropped with grass and maize in a single season. These crops form the basis of the TMR fed all-year round to the milkers, dry cows and youngstock.

“Our ration comprises chopped straw, grass silage, wholecrop wheat silage, maize silage, haylage, molasses and a concentrate blend,” David explains.

“The herd is split into low and high-yielding groups, and ration quantities are tailored accordingly, while the heifers get a similar diet roughage-wise but without the high energy of the molasses or concentrate. 

“Big square baled haylage forms a key forage element in all the diets, and to save time when mixing feeds, we put a number of bales into the feeder at once, process them and then eject them so we have a stockpile for use in the following couple of feeds. At a 1,000rpm pto speed, in ten minutes we can process a tub full of bales. It helps having a four-speed pto on the tractor, as we can engage the pto at a low speed to ease the load when the feeder’s full of unprocessed bales. 

“It’s a big ask of the machine, but even though we use a relatively small 115hp tractor on the front, it and the feeder have no problem handling the task. And it saves a fair bit of time, which is especially welcome as we are not heavily staffed, particularly when there are only two on duty at weekends. A paddle feeder just wouldn’t give us this sort of ability.”  

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