When selecting the right TMR equipment for an operation, this scenario couldn’t ring more true. From the time TMR feeding became a widely used practice, there have been three main configurations of mixers that have been used – trailed mixers, truck-mounted mixers and stationary mixers. Trailed mixers have historically been the standard on many dairies, but that does not mean truck-mounted and stationary mixing units cannot provide significant benefits if the shoe fits.
Truck-mounted mixers have historically been common on farms where there are long distances to travel. The obvious benefit of a truck-mounted mixer is that a truck can go much faster, especially on empty return trips, compared to a tractor and trailed mixer. For farms distributing feed at multiple facilities and spending time on the road, putting the pencil to the paper and figuring out how much time can be saved by making a truck-mount transition is likely worthwhile when considering your next mixer purchase. As a general rule of thumb, truck-mounted mixers can save up to 25% on travel times when compared to traditional trailed mixers. This can add up to a significant amount of time reduction to the feeding routine when feeding at multiple locations.
Another benefit outside of increased travel speeds is the ease of backing up a truck-mounted mixer. Many dairies have situations that require the operator to back out, or into, a feed alley. Without the pivot of the trailed mixer, it can be much easier to back up a truck mixer in and out of an alley that doesn’t offer much room for forgiveness. Backup camera availability has provided another level of safety and advantage to feed trucks.
TMR preparation in a feeding center utilizing a stationary mixer and dedicated delivery units is another option for dairies to consider in opposition to using trailed or truck-mounted mixers. A wide range of benefits can be realized when a stationary TMR mixing center is set up correctly on a dairy.
Careful consideration must be made before installing a stationary TMR mixing system to ensure the feeding center is a blessing instead of a curse to the dairy for years to come. First, a dairy must consider their current feeding routine and ask the question: Do we have people and vehicles sitting idle during parts of our feeding routine, and would a stationary mixer set-up provide us any time savings?
One of the largest benefits of stationary mixing systems is the ability to keep the highest-value machines (loader and mixer) loading and mixing throughout the entire routine. This concept is similar to a grain harvesting operation, where the grain cart and trucks are sized to keep the high-value combine in continuous operation. It is for this reason stationary mixers are often set up in pairs, to keep the loader loading one mixer while the other is doing a final mix and unloading. For operations with longer travel times, using non-mixing batch boxes to stage TMR ingredients that unload into mixers can provide similar benefits if the mixers can fully mix a ration while traveling to the pen.
If it is decided that stationary TMR mixing can provide a time benefit to the farm, many other considerations should be made to make sure the system is set up to ensure the most possible return on the investment. One of the most significant benefits of stationary mixing is the ability to house the stationary mixers in a fully or partially enclosed structure. Guarding the mixer from the elements can provide significant reductions in feed shrink if the farm was previously mixing and loading feed exposed to the elements, especially when considering shrink of commodities and microingredients.
Another benefit of stationary mixing can be explained using one of the dairy producer’s favorite words – consistency. Stationary mixers offer the opportunity for more consistent mixing procedures by putting the control of mixing all rations in the hands of one person and offering increased opportunity for automated control of the TMR mixer. Tracking mixing issues is much easier when a single person is responsible for the loading and mixing of all rations, and the potential for automated control of the drive package to avoid under- or overmixing with a variable-frequency drive (VFD) changing auger speeds is there.
Further automation potential of the entire mixing process is another benefit of a stationary mixer system. When feeding from one location in a feeding center, it can be much easier to set up automatic loading of commodities from bins and microbatching machines. In some cases, forage staging and automatic loading from a holding box can be taken into consideration. An advanced stationary mixer system provides a glimpse into what the future norms of TMR mixing could be in years to come.
Other benefits include the ability to mix feed with lower-cost electricity opposed to diesel fuel, reducing wear and tear on the mixer caused by travel and the ability for feeders to feed cows with delivery boxes designed to feed out well instead of mix feed.
If a stationary mixer system is deemed a good option for the farm, be sure to carefully go through planning the layout of the feeding center and location on the farm. A stationary mixer set-up will fit best in an area as close to the bulk forage storage as possible and does not interfere with other traffic on the dairy. Hauling forages long distances or having the loader slowed down by other activity can take away from the benefits of the set-up.
There are many considerations to take into account when choosing which feeding equipment is right for your dairy. At the end of the day, a dairy must choose and implement a solution that will place the correct ration in front of their cows as consistently as possible. The machinery used to achieve this goal will be different from farm to farm, and each mixing solution has its correct fit in the right place.
Aaron DuMez is a product specialist with Kuhn North America