By Debbie James

A Pembrokeshire dairy farmer is making significant savings on feed costs since calibrating in-parlour feeders.

Feeding to yield is central to milk production at Tymeini Farm, Tufton.

An in-parlour computerised feeder control unit allows feed to be delivered to the herd with greater precision.

Each feeder should consistently feed an equal portion at a known amount.

At Tynmeini, cows produce an annual milk yield average of 8,500 litres at 4.35 per cent butterfat and 3.42 per cent protein and are fed to a maximum of 5kg per milking.

Simon John, who runs the 280-cow herd with his father, Geraint, admits that calibrating the feeders was a job he had overlooked, even when the feed formulation changed.

As the density of feed varies, this can impact on calibration.

Soya is 33 per cent denser than wheat flour and 5 per cent denser than rape meal so several small changes in formulation can significantly alter the volume of a kilogram of cake.

Regular calibration is key to maintaining accuracy.

When the feeders were tested by Ed Goddard, of Pembrokeshire-based Dairycare Ltd, they were found to be dispensing 15g more cake per kilogram than they should have been.

“That doesn’t seem much but it adds up to 150kg a day across the herd or 4.5 tonnes month,’’ Mr Goddard calculates.

With the business paying between £250-£280 a tonne for cake, that is a minimum of £1,000 a month over-spend on feed, or £12,000 a year.

Mr Goddard says it is important to get feed allocation right to get the best return on investment in feed.

“The payback is better use of feed, better production and better fertility, the time taken to get this job done is a small cost compared to the benefit.’’

Mr John says calibration will now be a regular job.

“Calibration is a job farmers don’t really think about but when you see the figures in black and white it is quite a shock,’’ he admits.

Older parlour feeders require more frequent checking and calibrating, ideally every month, or more often if the concentrates fed through them is changed.

The gold standard is to calibrate when a fresh consignment is delivered, or at least every time the formulation changes.

“As a routine, each bank of feeders should be calibrated with each new delivery of concentrate,’’ says Rachael Rees, of Dairycare Ltd.

“If you change your cake or the ingredients change then check the feeders.’’

Ideally, calibrate every feeder individually, she says, but if this isn’t achieved at each calibration aim to get it done once a year.

The density of organic cake is very different to that of conventional feed so feeders should always be calibrated when switching farming systems, she adds.

“Organic cake is much lighter and that can make a huge difference to calibration.’’

It is important to check for wear and tear and build-up of debris in the feeder mechanism, hoppers and auger system – calibration will flag up partial blockages.

Weigh cells on diet feeders should also be checked as inaccuracies can have a similar impact.