Doing More with Less Via Automation
Washington's Coldstream Farms experienced a problem common to many farms — a significant amount of lost revenue due to feed shrink, or animal feed that is lost or wasted. Prior to 2014, 8 to 10 percent of the feed Coldstream purchased each year was classified as shrink.
“Where does it go? The birds eat it, it gets blown away, it gets driven over by the tractor tires,” said Galen Smith, partner at Coldstream Farms.
However, in 2014, Coldstream installed a fully automated feed mixer. The technology saves the farm time and money while also giving more options to create higher-quality feeds.
Additional shrink occurred when putting too much of certain ingredients in the feed. A human adding ingredients into a mixer can easily be off by up to 10 percent. Smith said automated mixing systems can solve that problem by minimizing human error.
The automated system ensures that no feed is wasted by adding exactly the required amount into the mixer. When 1,000 pounds of an ingredient is required for a feed, the mixer weighs out exactly 1,000 pounds. If too much is added, the mixer learns from its mistake to be even more accurate in the future.
The new feed mixer has saved Coldstream a significant amount of money on feed. Before the mixer was purchased in 2014, the farm saw around 10 percent shrink. After purchasing the mixer, that number dropped to around 2 percent. Smith said the system allows Coldstream to be more efficient with their feed.
"We've taken that 10 percent and we've put it in our pocket, rather than letting it get blown away or letting birds eat it," he said.
In addition to more accurate measurement, the system stores significantly more feed than their old feeder. This allows them to buy their feed in a larger quantity, saving them additional money.
The larger storage space also means that a larger variety of feed ingredients can be purchased. Coldstream increased their storage tenfold, increasing from having capacity for two to three different ingredients to 20 to 30. This means that Coldstream can work with Cargill to prescribe more specialized diets for each species.
"Cargill sets up the ration, we enter it into our software program, and through automation, switches are turned on and off, and ingredients are dropped in as they're called for," Smith said.
In addition, the mixer has saved the farm several hours of labor each day. That’s nearly 4,500 hours per year.
“We went from feeding around 1,200 cows in a 12-hour day,” Smith said. “Now our feeder feeds all of our animals, which is about 3,500 head, and he does that in about a 10-hour day. The investment in the technology and the equipment has allowed us to do more with less. And that's our ultimate goal.”
Take a deeper dive into understanding how Coldstream Farms is working with their Cargill dairy team in this blog post.