Maple Durhum Estate, Reading, Bershire, UK

Let's face it, adding ingredients to a mixer wagon to a required weight is not easy. Mistakes can happen and, as a result, milk yields can fall. For a large dairy unit near Reading it was a problem that needed solving. While it is everyone's intention to add the correct amount of each ingredient to a mixer wagon when creating a diet, the reality is that mistakes happen and, for dairy rations at least, milk yield can be adversely affected.

undefinedAt Mapledurham Estates, just north of Reading, estate manager Rob Wytchard has been wrestling with the problem of ‘variable' rations for some time. The Estate, which runs to some 2500 acres has, as its major enterprise, a 500 cow dairy unit with the cows being milked in a 50-point rotary parlour three times per day.

The herd average is currently 9200 litres but the intention is to achieve 10,000 litres so that annual production tops the five million litre mark. "We use a Shelbourne Reynolds 22 cu metre Powermix to create our diets," says Mr Wytchard. "We've had this machine for about a year and, to date, it has been performing well. "Performing well in that the diet it produced was well mixed and the silage and straw content chopped to a length considered to be ideal for maximum food utilisation. But there was one problem. "Every week we have 24 tonnes of a blend of straights delivered for mixing in with the diets we formulate each day for the herd," he explains. "The problem was that the weight of straights we were using in the diet only rarely correlated with the weight of straights we were purchasing - which indicated that our mixing was not as accurate as it should be and the cows' diet was probably suffering as a result."

undefinedMr Wytchard accepted the fact that his feeder operators were finding it difficult for one reason or another to add the correct weight of ingredients when making up rations."It didn't matter too much with the silage - a few kilos over or under for 500 cows did not make that much difference but for the straights it was a more serious matter." He adds that he had the facility to monitor individual milk yield, ration parlour feed to the last ounce and keep an accurate record of every cow's performance in terms of lactation yield, calving interval and so on - but he had not got the control of the actual diet. "We clearly needed to do something and I decided to invest in a system which could record accurately the precise amounts of ingredients being incorporated into the diets each day," says Mr Wytchard.

The Digi-Star Europe feed management system enables diets to be formulated in the farm office with weights of each ingredient required. This information is down loaded onto a key which the feeder operator places into the weigher display box on the Powermix. As the mixer wagon is loaded the required weight of each ingredient is displayed as before but this time, the actual weight of ingredient used is recorded on the key. When all the ingredients have been added and fed out the key is taken back to the farm office where the results are down loaded and displayed on the computer. "There are fundamentally two lists - one which shows what should have been fed and another that reveals what was actually fed - and we can see at a glance how accurate the mix was.," he says. "There are also displays which show how much was fed out to each group of cows and so on." For the first time we had an accurate check on just what the cows were eating and what it was costing. Better still, the ability to record this information has really made the feeder operators work hard to be more accurate. No one likes to be told he has done a poor job but there is little point in having diets if we don't keep to them." Mr Wytchard also points out that it is now easy to tweak diets on a daily basis if the cows are not eating all of it or there is a fall in milk yield. "We tend to adjust rations in respect of milk yield over a few days," he explains. "There are vet days or perhaps other activities that may make a daily change to yields and have nothing to do with diet, so we don't jump in with sudden changes. As a rule we try and feed for about 32 litres with the outside ration and the automatic parlour feeding makes up the difference." Having said that, there are circumstances where the automated parlour feeding system can work against itself and actually reduce milk yield.

undefined"If the diet feeder ration is incorrect and milk yields fall this will be picked up by the cow milk recording system which rations out the feed each cow receives in the parlour," explains Mr Wytchard. "So the cow gets less feed in the parlour which, along with the outside ration reduces her milk yield and then, she receives even less parlour feed, and so on." More accurate diet formulation helps to prevent this potentially expensive phenomenon but warning systems are now in place to draw attention to it.

"There is no doubt that milk yields have become more consistent since we started using the Digi-Star system with the Shelbourne Reynolds Powermix," he says. "The system is a real aid to herd management."

Follow us on facebook Follow us on twitter View our Youtube channel