It’s a major part of your daily operations, especially if you’re a dairy farmer. Choosing a suitable feed mixer, specifically total mixed rations (TMR), can provide a healthy advantage for your average feeding chore such as an improvement of milk production and cow reproductive health and a decrease in labor and feed costs.

In their essay, “Feeding Your Dairy Cows a Total Mixed Ration: Getting Started,” authors Donna M. Amaral-Phillips, José R. Bicudo and Larry W. Turner of the University of Kentucky-College of Agriculture explained that “although increase in milk production depends on how well the previous feeding system met the cows’ nutritional and management needs, some farmers who have switched from feeding grain in the parlor to feeding a TMR have seen production increase by 5 pounds or more per cow.”

Ration delivery should be a major consideration for a prospective feed mixer customer, noted William Allen of Patz Corporation, a manufacturer of feed and manure handling products.

“The number one concern is having a TMR mixer that delivers the ration you wish to deliver,” he said. “The work of the greatest nutritionist is wasted if you have a mixer that does not thoroughly mix both small (such as dry cow and transition cow groups) and completely full batches with equal consistency OR does not clean out well leaving feed in the mixer that contaminates the next ration to be mixed.”

Photo: David W. Kammel, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Just as important in purchasing a feed mixer, Allen mentioned, is to have a mixer that is capable of incorporating a wide variety of feedstuffs into a ration. “Just because a farm is not using long hay in their ration today does not mean there will not be a need for it the future,” Allen said. “Because of possible herd health needs and volatile feed prices a mixer should offer maximum flexibility in its ability to mix a variety of feed ingredients.”

Allen explained further that if a farm is expecting to expand its operations within the next three to five years, they should look for a mixer that will match their feeding requirements as well as making sure it will physically fit within the operation (barns, free stalls, bunker areas, etc.).

“Some of the questions they should be asking themselves are: ‘Is it too tall to fit in the barn? Are there discharge options available to accommodate my feeding areas? What are the horsepower requirements of the mixer and does that match up with available tractors?'” he said.

The test drive factor

The general duty of a feed mixer is to bring a balanced ration to the livestock, encouraging them to consume a consistent amount of supplements, grains, vitamins and other byproducts. However, conventional wisdom tells us that there’s no such thing as the perfect mix and all mixers are not created equally.

“Despite the information collected over years of use in the beef and dairy industries and the yearly design changes, mixer design is still a mechanical art form,” wrote David W. Kammel, Professor, Biological Systems Engineering Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison, in his essay, “Design, Selection and Use of TMR Mixers.”

“We don’t have a consumer report of TMR mixing equipment to compare mixers under similar conditions to answer the question, ‘Which mixer gives the best mix?’ For an individual farm, the best advice is to have an on-farm demonstration and test the mixer(s) you are considering by mixing a ration that you currently feed. The cow is the ultimate test.”

By having a test drive of sorts – either on-farm or on-site at a farm show – potential buyers can consider factors like batch mixing, mixing time and working in long-stemmed forage. Viewing an actual demonstration will help in balancing the actual performance of a mixer versus the manufacturer’s claim.

Another component vitally important to consider in purchasing a feed mixer is safety. In some dairy operations, the mixer is continuously running, which increases the chance for injury or, in some cases, death. Case in point: Last June, a farmer in Ohio was killed when he accidently fell into a feed mixer while it was still running.

“In an increasingly busy world, we must guard against the impulse to take shortcuts where safety is involved. Instructing operators of equipment on its proper use is essential, keeping guards in place and creating an overall culture of where safety concerns are respected can avoid a lifetime of sorrow,” Allen said. “Many of us grew up on farms and used equipment from an early age. Our industry is unique in that it provides a wonderful opportunity for entire families to work together on their family’s farm. But, with that comes a special responsibility to create a safe environment where there could be a lot of young people including family and non-family employees working.”

The market trend

As with anything manufactured, mixers as well as the rations they produce will decline in time and maintenance will be required. Although in the world of low dairy prices, money spent on updating such equipment has experienced slowdown.

PATZ’s 1200 Series Trailer TMR Vertical Mixer at the North American Manure Expo in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, last July.

Photo: Farming Magazine

“Milk to feed ratio is extremely important. When you consider feed is the largest cost associated with the production of milk having the necessary equipment such as a mixer to deliver it is critical,” Allen said. “However, our industry is one that constantly invests for the future and keeping the operation’s mixer up to date is a high priority for most.”

Allen also noted that as some farms increase in size and others acquire satellite locations, the demand for truck-mounted mixers will most likely become a viable option. However, farm owners should base their final decision of purchasing a feed mixer on their size and operation.