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EU beef producers ready for robotic feeders

Systems can feed precise rations 24 hours a day

The Lift is a automated device for cutting into open face of a silage pit. In this photo the Shuttle Eco robotic feed cart has arrived, at left, and stopped next to the Lift which will load it with fresh silage.

With labour shortages increasing across the agricultural industry internationally, robotic feeding is set to play a significant part on livestock farms in the future.

In Europe and other parts of the world, small and large beef units, even outdoor feedlots, are all targets for autonomous feeding systems backed up by the latest sensors, clouds and software.

Farmers attending the huge EuroTier livestock equipment show in Hanover, Germany last November left with heads full of ideas on how to make their businesses more efficient, but wondering in some cases how to afford it.

One of the latest systems consists of the Shuttle Eco developed by Austrian company Wasserbauer. It acts as vehicle with a 2.2-cubic metre capacity for collecting the feed and distributing it to the cattle. There is an excellent YouTube video to watch if you Google “Wasserbauer Nano.”

The Shuttle Eco — a self-unloading robotic feed tub on wheels — is part of a Wasserbauer-developed feeding system. One YouTube video shows it designed to work with silage stored in a concrete bunker. At the face of the silage pit is another robotic device called a Wasserbauer Lift unit. It has a power-cutting head that cuts away at the silage face. As the shuttle rolls into place by the Lift, it begins cutting and blows silage into the shuttle feed tub. The Lift is a fully automatic “intelligent” system comprising a milling and a blower unit. Once the feed tub is full, the shuttle travels back over a concrete surface to a feed alley in a free-stall shed or barn and delivers feed to cattle along the alley.

This robotic feed tub, called Shuttle Eco, on display at EuroTier show, can collect feed at 
the silage pit and bring it back to feed alley in the barn. photo: Chris McCullough

The feeding robot is battery powered and moves freely around the shed via magnets in the floor. As a result, it can easily be used in several sheds and can move to several silos.

Along with silage, the shuttle can also dock next to overhead feed bins to be topped up with grain, concentrate or minerals. The Shuttle Eco feeds animals around the clock, 365 days a year, with precisely tailored fresh ration and the best part is, it never will ask for time off!

Another system by Triolet

Another newcomer to the world of robotic feeding was Trioliet’s Triomatic WB 2-250, which travels on wheels instead of a rail.

It uses battery power to travel, discharge feed and for pushing up the feed along the feed alley. However, the unit docks onto a power rail in the “feed kitchen,” using the main power source to recharge batteries and mix feed.

This gives the robot extra capacity and prolongs the lifespan of the batteries.

With a capacity of 2.50 cubic metres, the WB2-250 model has two augers, is 1.25 m wide and needs a minimum 2.4 m wide passageway (alley) to discharge the feed in.

For navigation, the Triomatic WB 2-250 robot uses an antenna that follows an induction wire or transponders on the floor. This makes it possible to operate without need for a rail, even between different sheds across a farmyard. The robot can be combined with all types of Triomatic feed kitchens that are already available. Depending on the route, this model can discharge up to 15 tonnes of feed per day.

One visitor at the EuroTier show, U.K. farmer Andrew Johnston, pointed out that robots are the way of the future.

“Robotics are upon us, whether we are ready for it or not,” says Johnston. “It really is the next stage of feeding beef cattle. Using robotics is something we need to prepare for when investing in our farms. A generation ago, dairy farmers never expected robotics to milk their cows and look where we are today. As a beef farmer, I can see how feeding robotics could make me more efficient with less labour or machinery.”

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