October 04, 2022

Robotic feeders provide consistent feed mix daily to dairy cows

‘The Vector has allowed the cows to meet their potential’

PELLA, Iowa — Feeding dairy cows with a Lely Vector provides a consistent quality mix each day.

“We chose the Vector for flexibility, accuracy and repeatability to make sure the batches of feed were made the same every day,” said Frank Louwagie, dairyman at Hillmanor Farms in West Perth, Ontario.

“We just built a new cross-vent barn and we’re milking 150 cows,” said Louwagie during a Lely virtual roundtable event.

The barn also includes four milking robots and a feed kitchen with a crane, where the feed is stored, selected, picked up and loaded into the Vector for mixing.

“One of the benefits we saw from milking with robots is the consistency of the milking,” Louwagie said. “It’s not hard to get people to work Monday to Friday, but on the weekends, the milking is done quicker and the cows end up suffering if things are not done consistently.”

Feeding the cows consistently, Louwagie said, is quite similar.

“To keep cows producing a lot of milk, you need to keep feed in front of them all the time,” he said. “Most farms will experience empty bunks once in a while, but the Vector never lets that happen.”

The Vector circulating around the barn calls the cows to the bunk, Louwagie said.

“In our old facility we were overfeeding by about 10% and now we’re overfeeding about 1%,” he said. “In the winter, it might be a month before we clean the bunks out.”

Honey Creek Dairy

Dan Venteicher milks 180 head of Holsteins at Honey Creek Dairy near Strawberry Point, Iowa.

“Lely has been a huge asset to our farm, our cows have responded well and we’ve seen a significant increase in milk production,” said Venteicher during the roundtable event. “We were first one to have them in Iowa.”

The dairy facility includes a Lely Vector and a feed kitchen with a grabber.

“We choose that for flexibility because we can feed many different feed types and commodities,” Venteicher said.

“It allows us to share forages between two farms,” he said. “My bother lives on the heifer farm, so we can grow milk cow corn silage there and he can bring a trailer load and put it in the kitchen.”

Within 30 days after feeding the cows with the Vector, Venteicher saw a four-pound per cow increase in milk production.

“In the last 12 months, our cows have consistently produced 104 pounds of milk and they peaked at 111 pounds for four to five weeks last winter,” he said. “I never thought that would be possible.”

The dairyman attributes this milk production to the fresh feed that is available to the cows all the time.

“The cows get the same bite every day,” he said. “The Vector has allowed the cows to meet their potential.”

Venteicher’s old barn was built in 1996 and it has a 14-foot-wide alleyway.

“Continuing with that kind of narrow design without the Vector didn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “So, it worked out perfect to have the Vector retrofitted into the old facility because it’s a small machine, the barn is quiet and we never have a diesel engine running through the barn.”

Trehane Holsteins

Jake Stephens milks 200 cows at Trehane Holsteins near Niverville, Manitoba.

“In 2014, we put in one of the first Vectors in North America and a feed grabber,” he said. “In 2018, we put in another Vector and now we have eight feed fences with all the groups.”

Cold temperatures do not impact the Vector, Stephens said.

“Starting tractors in Manitoba at minus 40 is not fun,” he said. “We usually had two tractors running for four hours a day and I can’t even start a tractor for what the Vector costs running for the whole day.”

The Vector on Stephens’ farm feeds the heifers two to four times a day.

“We start feeding animals with the Vector at 6 to 8 months old, we breed the heifers at 13 months for calving at 23 months average,” he said. “A big benefit is the health is so good, so the preg rate is running at 28% to 30% with a few months at 35% to 36% and even to 44%.”

If a big snowstorm is predicted, Stephens said, he increases the feed height for the cows and young stock.

“We have two routes — one to the milking herd and one to the young stock,” he said. “We don’t turn the Vector off all winter — we just pause it for the nighttime for the young stock if there’s a snowstorm.”

Poulin Farms

Josh Poulin milks 360 Jersey cows at Poulin Farms near Newport, Virginia.

“We put the Vector in a little over a year ago and it has been a great addition to the farm,” he said. “It is helping to keep our labor costs down and it seems to bring consistency and help with the feeding challenges we had before.”

Adding the Vector to the farm, Poulin said, has increased milk production a couple of pounds, as well as improving milk components.

“Some of that is from having feed in front of them all the time,” he said.

Before feeding with the Vector, Poulin said, feed refusals were at 3,000 to 4,000 pounds.

“Now in the winter we clean the feed fences about once a week, and in the summertime, every other day. The feed refusals are maybe 500 pounds now, so that’s a pretty big savings in feed and I’ve seen it in the feed inventories.”

For more information about Lely products go to www.lely.com.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor