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Equipment Hub: Minimizing mixer downtime

Ed Jackman for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 March 2019

When you wake up in the morning, you have two jobs that must be done regardless of everything else – you need to get your cows milked, and you must get them fed. Everything else can be put on hold to ensure these two activities are completed.

I will leave the milking to the dairy equipment people; I want to talk about feeding. Whether you are feeding out of vertical or horizontal silos, using grain in bins or commodity sheds, or bales in a number of different configurations, you need to transfer it from the storage location to the cows, and you need to mix it together. Today, most people are using a TMR wagon or truck for both delivery and mixing.

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Both activities are important, and both have different requirements for them to be effective. Both, however, have one commonality: You must be consistent. That means delivering the feed at exactly the same time every day and delivering a consistent mix where each mouthful is exactly the same. In this article, we will talk about feed delivery and, in a future article, discuss mix quality and evaluating your mixer.

Delivering feed on time starts with planning, communication and a commitment by everyone on the dairy to delivering the feed at the precise time. This includes not only the employees but everyone that comes on the dairy. The field crew parking a machine in the way or a delivery truck in the driveway may only delay the feeder five or 10 minutes, but that delay can snowball throughout the day. Most feed management software tracks the time feed is delivered to each pen each day and can help you evaluate your performance.

The following are some suggestions to help ensure consistent feed delivery.

First, coordinating the feeding schedule with milking, cleaning and bedding the barn. You want fresh feed in front of the cows when they return from milking. Whether they are milked in a stall barn, parlor or by a robot, fresh feed keeps them standing after milking, which is important for mastitis prevention and also for maximizing dry matter intake (DMI).

Second, make sure the people and equipment are ready to go at the desired time. Normally, if you are late feeding one group, you never catch up, and delivery of feed to all cows is late that day, so being prepared is critical. I don’t need to stress the importance of people being on time to work. We are all human, and sometimes we are late because of items out of our control.

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Accepting this fact can help to keep feeding on time. Instead of going directly to feeding when your feeder gets to work, I suggest scheduling some buffer time and buffer jobs first thing. This allows you to compensate for the tractor that does not start, snow removal or the hundreds of other possibilities that may arrive. This buffer time can provide you time to adjust and still start feeding at the desired time.

Third, how often have you had to wait to make a batch of feed because of a delayed feed delivery? It is important to keep track of inventories daily and always keep a 24-hour buffer of purchased feeds on hand. If a delivery truck breaks down en route, and your feeding is delayed three to four hours, milk production can be negatively impacted significantly. Keeping track of inventories daily can prevent this.

Fourth, is the equipment ready to go? Breakdowns are a fact of life and will occur at some point; your priority should be to be ready and to keep downtime to a minimum. Most producers follow a scheduled service program to keep up with manufacturers’ suggested maintenance on their equipment, but my observation is: Very few people conduct daily and more in-depth weekly machine inspections.

When was the last time you checked tire pressures or inspected the wires going from the tractor to the mixer? I suggest a simple daily machine inspection during tractor fueling where someone is actually looking for potential problems. I suggest this be done at the end of the day so repairs can be made prior to the next feeding cycle, and conducting a much more detailed inspection weekly.

Unfortunately, breakdowns will occur, and being prepared for those breakdowns can keep downtime to a minimum. Having spare parts on hand to repair a broken item can help you to quickly get back on your feeding schedule. Even if you are close to your dealer, your dealer is not always open, and having to wait can increase your downtime and delay feeding.

Having a small inventory on hand can allow you to make repairs quickly and get back to feeding. I suggest a spare tire and wheel, a spare PTO shaft, and shear bolts and chain repair links as a minimum. Other items may be scale parts (most mixer service calls are scale-related), universal joints, bearings, oil and filters. Your dealer can help you customize an on-farm spare parts kit. A couple of thousand dollars of on-farm spare parts can help maximize uptime.

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Many farms rely on a spare mixer to get them by in the event of a breakdown. You need to keep in mind, your old mixer you parked in the back of the shed last year when you got your new mixer was replaced (normally because it was too small) is probably not reliable or is no longer working well. If you have a spare mixer to get you out of a bind if you have a breakdown, I suggest you continue to use it at least once a month for a few loads just to make sure it will be ready when needed.

Today, we have talked about the importance of delivering feed at the same time each day and some suggestions that can help you keep on schedule – making sure that everyone on your team is aware of how important timely feed delivery is, taking daily actions to keep on schedule and planning for the unexpected all contribute to getting the cows fed every day and delivering the feed so they can do their best.  end mark

Ed Jackman has spent 38 years advising dairy farms in the U.S. and Canada.

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