Smart farming

Background

New machines to boost on-farm practices

We round up some new electric, mobile and/or automated machines currently available to producers and have a look at how much the demand for this equipment is growing.

Every year, more new electric and automated farm machinery is released onto the market, and that’s no surprise. Farmers are very interested in environmentally friendly equipment and systems with no emissions and no noise. And, now that battery lifespans are longer and some equipment can even use solar power, demand is stronger than ever. To get the latest news on products, we’ve contacted some major manufacturers, along with 2 farmers and a scientist for their perspectives on use and their outlooks.

The 8 m³ Siloking eTruck TMR feed mixer. Photo credit: Reto Ammann, Siloking
The 8 m³ Siloking eTruck TMR feed mixer. Photo: Reto Ammann, Siloking

Siloking eTruck TMR feed mixer

Farmers experience

Klaas-Jan Buist of Buistlane Farms in Canada (Mount Elgin, Ontario) purchased the 8m3 Siloking eTruck TMR feed mixer in 2018 after having it on the farm as a “demo” for a few months. Buist explains that for years, he had already had a self-propelled TMR mixer and feed cart all-in-one, and he was in favour of another self-propelled machine to do these jobs in an expanded way in a new barn. “We did our research and found that Siloking had an electric mixer and I thought, this is worth trying,” says Buist. “The total cost of ownership was comparable to other systems and when we had it as a demo, we found it really shines for energy consumption.”

- Costs of charging feed mixer

Buist charges the unit every 3rd day, at night when electricity rates are lower. “In the winter, you usually have to charge it every second night, and the cost is about CAD$ 3 (US$ 2.30) to charge it, so that’s CAD$ 1.00–CAD$ 1.50 (US$ 0.77–US$ 1.15) a day,” he says.

- Noise and emissions

“And minimal noise and no emissions. In the autumn, winter and spring I can load feed the night before and start it up with no issues in the morning, even after the feed has settled. The electric motor has tremendous torque. I was not going to sacrifice anything on mixing quality and I don’t with this unit. It makes a fantastic homogeneous mix. The feedout is consistent and cleanout is perfect.”

For the benefit of their animals, farmers are very interested in environmentally friendly equipment and systems with no emissions and no noise. Photo: Henk Riswick
For the benefit of their animals, farmers are very interested in environmentally friendly equipment and systems with no emissions and no noise. Photo: Henk Riswick

Cost-effective and efficient for feeding

Siloking also makes the “eSilokamm”, a self-propelled electric-powered silage collection and distribution machine. For its batteries, Siloking works closely with a European forklift manufacturer that has many years of proven experience. “One of the challenges of the battery technology in general is still the weight and space it takes,” says Reto Ammann at Siloking Canada. “But in our situation, Siloking made the heavy weight of the battery pack an advantage for the machine concept. We use the weight of the battery to put more weight on the drive axle, which results in more traction in the winter months, for example on snow and ice.” He expects battery technology to continue to improve. Ammann believes that with the current battery-driven electric equipment technology, electric feeding machines are nicely suited for small and medium dairy farms in terms of being cost effective and efficient for feeding. He believes that “government grant programs, similar to those in some European countries that support environmentally friendly technologies on the farm, would for sure propel the market for this technology.”

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Triomatic HP 2 300 hanging feeding robot

For automated feeding in the barn, Trioliet offers the rail-suspended Triomatic HP 2 300 hanging robot if there are height differences between barns. “We have the Triomatic WP 2 300 feeding robot on wheels using a power rail if everything is quite even, and a high capacity is required,” says sales manager Triomatic Stefan Schulte. “One robot can feed up to 700 head and we can combine multiple robots in a system. At this very moment we are building a system to feed 1,400 milking cows.

Trioliet's WB feeding robot. Photo: Trioliet
Trioliet's WB feeding robot. Photo: Trioliet

Triomatic WB 2 300 battery-driven robot

“We now have the Triomatic WB 2 300 battery-driven robot if rails are impossible in the case of low roofing or if the robot travels between barns with an important driveway between. All Triomatic robots have a 3m3 mixing tub with 2 vertical augers.” Schulte and his colleagues are seeing more and more farmers interested in robotic feeding. “It is hard to get qualified employees, and saving on labour and energy costs is getting more important,” he says. While he acknowledges that the cost of a robot feeder is higher than a trailed mixer, he believes that the difficulties in finding qualified labour and the energy savings will propel the investment in robotic feeding. “Also,” Schulte adds, “robot feeding can enable dedicated feeding of all groups (of animals) multiple times per day, which increases feed efficiency.”

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Triomatic T30 feed kitchen with WB robot

Farmers experience

Mark Kruidhof and his family have had a T30 with WB robot since 2019 on their dairy farm (150 milking herd) in Ommen, the Netherlands. Before they got it, they had a self-propelled feed mixer and decided to look for other feeding options because of diesel usage and the time it took to feed all the animals.

“We like how the Trioliet T30 is accurate in the amount and the mixture of the feed,” says Kruidhof. “Our cows eat multiple times a day, but smaller and fresher portions. Because of that our cows are eating more and we see an increase in milk production.”

We like how the Trioliet T30 is accurate in both the amount and the mixture of the feed.”

- WB robot

In terms of the WB robot, Kruidhof thinks using a feeding robot is the way forward, saving a lot of time on feeding that can be better spent. He notes that the WB is still in pilot phase and they’ve had to add a door from another supplier that opens automatically to allow the robot entry. “Problems in communication between the robot and the door system can require a discussion, because each supplier can claim that the problem is not in their product,” he says. “We would suggest an all-in-one solution.”

Their robot has to drive outside to get to the feed kitchen and different cowsheds, and Kruidhof says it’s better when the robot has the space to stay in the cowshed. “This way you don’t have to think about where you leave your tractor and if the robot is going to bump into it,” he explains.

Super SmartFeed: Portable, solar precision cattle feeding

Next up is an electric and portable precision cattle feeding machine, the Super SmartFeed made by US-based C-Lock.

Scientific evaluation

In January 2020, Dr. Nicolas DiLorenzo, associate professor at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna, and his colleague Gleise Silva published an evaluation of this machine. DiLorenzo notes that this machine can mitigate the amount of labour involved with supplementing different types of beef cattle in the herd (heifers, bulls, lactating females) with the appropriate nutrients, which enhances performance and therefore profit.

Trioliet offers the Triomatic WB 2 300 battery-driven robot if rails are impossible in the case of low roofing or if the robot travels between barns with an important driveway between. Photo: Trioliet
Trioliet offers the Triomatic WB 2 300 battery-driven robot if rails are impossible in the case of low roofing or if the robot travels between barns with an important driveway between. Photo: Trioliet

C-Lock’s Ted Cunningham adds, however, that while “we certainly see the greatest interest with beef cattle, primarily because it’s designed to be used remotely on range or pasture… without a doubt, the dairy industry is also a great candidate for this technology as well.”

The Super SmartFeed has a large feed bin on top that can be subdivided into 4 compartments, allowing up to 4 different supplements to be loaded. “In a practical scenario, this means that a cow-calf producer could use the machine to supplement the cows with a protein feedstuff, while at the same time providing an exclusive creep-feed supplement to the calves,” DiLorenzo explains. “This is possible because the feeder reads the RFID tag of each animal and selects the exact amount from each of the 4 bins to provide the right blend.” The SmartFeed Pro is equipped with a patented gate system, where up to 2000 pounds (907 kilogrammes) of force is applied to remove the animal’s head from the bunk if need be, once the desired intake level is reached. The machine is powered by a solar panel and 2 batteries. All data, such as the amount of feed left in the bin, solar panel voltage and individual cow feed intake, are reported in real-time to the farmer’s smartphone.

...a cow-calf producer could use the machine to supplement the cows with a protein feedstuff, while at the same time providing an exclusive creep-feed supplement to the calves.”

“The cows definitely need to learn it, and we are designing studies now to see how long it takes them and if this year’s cows will remember using it in a year,” says DiLorenzo. “There are also dominant animals that keep others away and we want to put a camera in place to observe this. There have been a few cows in each of our groups that didn’t ever approach the feeder. I’m not sure if there is a way to get those types of calves to use it.”

Use of automated feeding systems will continue to grow for cattle

Dr. DiLorenzo believes the use of automated feeding systems will continue to grow for cattle due to the challenges in hiring qualified labour in rural areas. “Also, labour costs will continue to go up and the cost of automation always go down,” he says. “The power requirements of automated systems are also coming down, so if the unit can’t run on solar and needs to be recharged, there will be less power consumption.”