How To Set An Automatic Cattle Feeder

When it comes to feeding your cattle an automatic cattle feeder takes care of giving your cows and calves through providing them with their daily rations whilst you can focus on other farm duties. In this article we will look at how to best set up a cattle feeder

Automatic cattle feeders are relatively simple to set up and are designed to be portable for relocation. When set up, they provide your cattle with of feed so that your cows grow up healthy and productive.

Here we are going to tell you why you need an automatic cattle feeder, how to set it up and also what to do if you have issues with your feeder.

So, grab a glass of milk (and a cookie if you want) and let’s take a stroll through the world of automatic cattle feeders. We have a disclaimer to make…links to brands of feeders are purely for informational and illustrative purposes. We don’t endorse or get any income from these manufacturers.

Why should I get an automatic cattle feeder? 

Automatic cattle feeders take care of your cow’s gastronomic needs which means you have more time available to tend to other things. Labour costs are also reduced due to the fact that you don’t have to pay staff to feed your herd. 

Your cows are healthier and can reach a good weight which is a major if you’re selling your cows for meat as you can control feed portions.

For those who are raising milk cows, automated feed systems improve the milk capacity of our cows as they are fed more frequently than they would be if fed manually. 

So you know that automatic feeders improve the health and productivity of your herd, but how?

Healthy Cows!

An automatic feeder allows you time schedule feeding times for your cattle which means that they can be fed more often than what you would be able to provide if you had to do it manually (imagine having to drop what you’re doing just so you could feed your cattle for the fifth time today!). 

By allowing your cows to feed 5 times a day means that the PH level in your cow’s rumen stabilises to a level between 5.5 to 5,8 which makes it easier for your cow to digest the fibre in the feed. Also, by allowing your cattle to feed several times a day reduced the chance of them getting rumen acidosis

Frequent feeding also influences the hormones of your cows. Feeding your cattle 4 times per day can cause them to gain 1,40kg per day. Insulin production is also enhanced which produces more muscle and less fat. Also, thyroid hormones are reduced which means that your cows have more energy. 

Allowing your cows to eat several times per day can increase milk production by 3% and milk fat by 8%.

Heat-stressed cows benefit from frequent feeding through the consistent absorption of nutrients and heat increases are spread out over a period of time. In wintertime, your cows are exposed to a colder environment, which can increase their calorie intake twofold. If the calorie needs aren’t met can lead to sick cows. Letting your cattle feed 4 or 5 times a day in smaller portions allows you to meet the caloric requirements of your cows.

Calves that are allowed to feed 3 times a day provide you with, on average, 516kg more milk and produce their own calves 16 days earlier than those who are fed only twice a day. What a difference one extra feeding can make!

Portioning the rations

The great thing about automatic cattle feeders is that they are able to portion out the rations so that each cow gets what it needs to meet its nutritional requirements. The needs of lactating cows is different than that of dry cows and, with dry cows, each one is at a different stage of growth and nutritional as well as protein need. Each cow can be electronically identified by the feeder which then supplies the cow with a unique ration that is meant for that cow. 

Also, automated feeders can measure out the correct amount of feed for each member of the herd. Clever technology!

Feeder systems

When it comes to feeding your cattle you can opt for either a self-feeder which has its own feeding bins or a feed bunk (trough system). Feeding bins are portable so means that you can transport them around your farm (if you want to provide supplementary feed for your cows). However, if the feed contained within the system is moist, it can spoil if left in the self-feeder for a few days. This type of feeder is better suited for smaller cattle sizes.

The feed bunk system allows a greater variety of rations to be delivered to your cows and should be situated along your fence line. This system isn’t portable so can create an issue if you are rotating your herd from pasture to pasture. The length of the bunk depends on how many cows you need to feed (look at a length of 250mm to 300mm for each cow). Sealing your trough with at least two coats of epoxy resin will save the surface from corrosion. If you make your feed bunk too wide, food can be pushed to the back as cows feed therefore causing the cow to have to step into the trough to reach the food. Also, make the corners of the bunk rounded. Square corners are traps for food. Additionally, ensure that you have drainage holes through the length of the trough to let rainwater escape through.

How to set up and use automatic cattle feeders

Okay, so how do automatic feeders actually work and how do you set them up. Is it hard to get one up and running or can you get your feeder up and running with little hassle? 

Here we are going to show you how to set up a feeder. Though the models of automatic cattle feeders may vary in looks, they all operate fundamentally the same. We will talk about how to adjust the feeder capacity so that it distributes the rations at a predetermined rate, how to set the timer, power options, how automatic feeders figure out which cow gets what food, how portable the units are and the safety aspects of the feeders.

Calibrating the ration sizes 

When it comes to feeding your cows you don’t want them overfed or underfed. Most models come with an adjustable spinner plate that you can slide up or down to adjust the feed sizes for your cow. How to adjust the plate depends on the brand that you have. For example, the feeders from Solar Feeders have a screw that you need to loosen which then allows you to move the plate. 

You can also set up the feeder so that it can deliver the right food mix to the appropriate cow. A prime example of this can be seen with GEA’s Automated Feeding MixFeeder model. So instead of having to manually adjust the feeder, you simply input the dietary needs of each of your cows and let the feeder take care of business for you! 

Setting the timer 

Each brand of automated cattle feeder can vary in the timer length. The whole point of the timer is to set how often and how much fed to distribute and there are feeders available that allow you to feed 6 times a day whereas others, such as the feeders from Auto Easy Feeder, let you feed up to 80 times a day. 

Fundamentally, all timers for automated cattle feeding operate the same way. They will allow you to set how often you want to feed your cows and how much feed is dispensed at a time. The timers come with a battery back up to retain memory in case of a power outage. 

Power options

The options for powering your automatic feeder depends on whether you want to have the unit installed in a stall where the cows can come and feed or if you want to go al fresco style with your cattle having the pleasure of dining outdoors. For inside you can choose to have a mains powered unit, however, if there is a power outage means that your cows aren’t going to be fed, so it might pay to consider a backup power supply.

The outdoor feeders are mostly solar-powered with a 12V  battery system which means you are saving money on power costs. The portability of the units makes them a convenient option if you are having to relocate your cows often. When it comes to the positioning of the solar panels, in the northern hemisphere have them facing true south and in the southern hemisphere, your solar panels should be directed toward true north. Positioning your solar panels in such a way enables them to get the sun all day. 

How to have your feeder individualise the meals

You may be wondering how your automatic feeder is able to know which cow gets what meal.  It all comes down to the magic of technology. Feeders have built-in sensors which you can set via computer.  Input the dietary requirements such as nutritional needs and feed size for each of your cows and then, when a cow approaches the feeder, the tag in its ear emits a radio frequency which is detected by the feeder’s sensors. The feeder identifies the cow, matches it with the information you have programmed into the feeder’s computer and the feeder provides the cow with the appropriate ration.

The data from the feeder also helps you determine how much and how often the cows eat, which allows you to identify any health issues any of your cows may have. 

A different take on the frequency option is found with the feeders manufactured by NewVisionAg. Their units send out an audio signal that is recognised by each cow and then the specific cow approaches the feeder. This makes feeding times more controlled and less concern for you over cattle battling for space at feeding time.

Portable feeders

As we have mentioned previously in this article,  some feeder’s are portable. The Auto Feeder comes on skids with D-rings, so all you need to do is grab your tractor or another vehicle to lift the feeder and you are set to relocate it. The same can be done with the feeders offered by AutoEasy Feeder. 

Other feeders are placed on a towable trailer such as those offered by Solar Feeders. Connect it to your vehicle, and away you go to the next feeding destination for your cows. 

Time for some feed

With your feeders, you can provide your cattle with grain, pellets, or hay. Moist or dry rations. Just be careful that your moist rations don’t cause the feeder to block up.

How you load your feeder depends on which one you buy. Solar Feeders have a side panel that you open up to place the feed into the unit. Then you adjust the spinner plate to match the length/size of your feed. 

The feeders from AutoEasy Feeders can accommodate different types and sizes of feed ranging from bulk feed through to cube feed without you having to manually adjust the size of the feeding mechanism. Just type in the feed requirements for each cow and the feeder will automatically adjust itself to the size of the feed within the unit. 

Safety tips

Though automatic cattle feeders are designed to be strong and withstand harsh weather, you still need to be vigilant with safety issues. The first one is potential power issues if you have an indoor unit that is mains powered. The last thing you want is for your cows to get a shock, so make sure that you regularly check your automatic cow feeder and your electrics for any potential faults in the making.

With your cows inevitably bumping their heads or body against the feeder, look to see if there are any sharp protrusions sticking out from the feeder that can cause your cows to be injured. 

Maintaining your automatic cow feeder

In line with the safety of your cow feeder is the maintenance of it. That means checking that there are no feed materials in the unit that can cause it to clog up.  How often you clean the unit dorms on how many cattle are using it, but give it a good wash down at least once a month. Also, disinfect the unit as it may have inadvertently picked up parasites from your cows that could be shared amongst the herd.

Visually check the components of your feeding unit to see if there is any corrosion or parts becoming loose. It may pay to observe your cattle using the feeder to see if they have any issues with accessing the feed.

Test the timer regularly to ensure that it is functioning properly. After all, this is a critical part of the system! If the timer fails while you are away, means disaster as your cows may be fed the wrong feed, provided too much or too little feed, or not given any feed at all.

Check the battery and its charge. If you find that there are issues with your battery,  then replace it immediately for peace of mind. Solar panels can last several decades with the only issue is the degradation of the panel, which simply means that output efficiency drops by a minimal percentage each year. This decrease in power is so small that it’s nothing to be concerned about.  

Theft of your portable cow feeder is a real consideration that you need to make.  The feeders from Solar Feeders come with an anti-theft trailer tongue. However, if you find that the automatic feeder you get doesn’t have any inbuilt anti-theft measures, consider using a GPS tracking system. GPS systems can be set remotely if you happened to notice that someone was towing your feeder away, the GPS tracker can switch on automatically once it detects movement or if it moves outside of a preset geolocation. 

You happy farmer!

Congratulations, you now have an idea about why you should get an automatic feeder, time is money and you can spend less time having to feed your cows and more on maintaining the farm. Also,  we have shown you how to set up the feeder though it all depends on the brand and style of your feeder, but it’s as simple as filling up the feeder with food, setting the timer and letting the magic of technology take care of the rest. The feeder can detect a cow through the radio signal emitted from its tag and provide it with the appropriate feed mix.

Happy Cattle Farmer

Maintenance is still a big key with the feeders and giving them a regular check over will prevent any disasters from happening.  Spare parts are usually available from the manufacturer if you are ever in need of a component. Cleaning will have the feeder operating at its best and will eliminate the possibility of your cows getting an illness or parasite while grazing from the unit. 

The whole objective is to make your job as a farmer easier and your cows healthy and productive and we showed you the results from cattle that are fed at least three times a day (in a nutshell, the cows are amazing). That makes for a happy farm all round! 

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