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 ex- act amount from each of the four bins to provide the right blend.” The SmartFeed Pro is equipped with a patented gate system, where up to 2000 lbs 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 two batteries. All data, such as the amount of feed left in the bin, the solar panel voltage and individual cow feed intake, are reported in real time to the farmer’s smart phone.

The Super SmartFeed, made by US-based C-Lockis, is a portable electric preci- sion cattle feeding machine.

says Kruidhof. “Our cows eat smaller and fresher portions many times a day. Because of that our cows are eating more and we see an increase in milk production.” In terms of the WB robot, Kruidhof thinks using a feeding robot is the way ahead, saving a lot of time on feeding that can be better spent on other things. He notes that the WB is still in a 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 lead to disputes, because each supplier can claim that the problem does not lie in their product,” he says. “We would suggest an all-in-one solution.” Their robot has to drive out- side 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.

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. 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 ma- chine can mitigate the amount of labour involved in supple- menting different types of beef cattle in the herd (e.g., heif- ers, bulls and lactating females) with the appropriate nutrients, which enhances performance and therefore profit. The Super Smart Feed has a large feed bin on top which can be subdivided into four compartments, allowing up to four different supplements to be loaded. “In a practical scenario, this means that a cow-calf producer could use the machine to

28 ▶ ALL ABOUT FEED | Volume 28, No. 8, 2020

Ted Cunningham, C-Lock manager for beef systems, says a ‘re- search’ model of the Super Smartfeed has been available for about fiveyears (sales have gone well), and the producer ver- sion was released just this year. “It provides the same func- tionality of being able to precisely feed individual animals within a herd, but without some of the features that are re- quired in a research setting,” he explains. “This new version we believe is quite affordable for farmers/ranchers who are looking for systems to remotely and autonomously feed and manage cattle, reduce labour and ultimately improve man- agement and efficiency. Thus far, we’re seeing lots of interest in this technology…We certainly believe the biggest market for this system will be forage/pasture-based beef supplemen- tation systems.” In their evaluation, Silva and DiLorenzo found the technology to be useful. DiLorenzo notes that beef pro- ducers who have different types of cows often don’t supple- ment them effectively – they don’t have enough pasture space to separate them, for example – and this unit provides a way to avoid this fairly common source of herd mismanage- ment. “There’s a lot of benefit to be gained through precision feeding and tracking each animal, and it can be difficult for farmers to do this without an automated system like this one,” he says. He says colleagues at Oklahoma University are figur- ing out how many animals can be fed with it, which could be up to 100. “The cows definitely need to learn it and we’re de- signing studies now to see how long it takes them and if this year’s cows will remember using it a year later,” he says. “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 animals in each of our groups that didn’t ever ap- proach the feeder. I’m not sure if there’s a way to get those types of calves to use it.”

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


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