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Harnessing Drones To Improve Cattle Feed Consistency, Overall Herd Health 

  • A ration of ingredients that is balanced to support immune function, mixed and delivered consistently can help prevent adverse health events and ultimately provide financial returns to producers.
  • Cargill’s TMR Audit® looks for consistency along the feed bunk, feed delivery and management, feed center efficiency and shrink, and mixer maintenance.
  • Drones allow a birds-eye view of how the TMR mixer is operating, the consistency of the feed and opportunities for improvements.


Harnessing drones to improve cattle feed consistency, overall herd health

Feed and nutrition management have powerful impacts on animal health. Diet consistency can play a significant role in making sure a cow is happy, healthy, and productive. Today, some farmers are leveraging drones to make the job of rationing feed easier with a more precise way to dial in on variables that are fundamental to raising healthy, profitable animals.

Feed ration fundamentals

A consistent, balanced feed mix can help promote optimal health, reproduction, and milk production. A ration of ingredients that is balanced to support immune function – as well as mixed and delivered consistently – can help prevent adverse health events, ultimately providing financial returns to farmers.

To deliver the correct ration, farmers need to feel confident in their feeding process. Cargill’s Diamond V product brand introduced a unique, systematic approach to measuring the operational efficiency of a dairy’s feeding system. It’s called the TMR Audit®, or a total mixed ration audit. A TMR audit looks for consistency along the feed bunk and evaluates feed delivery and management, feed center efficiency and shrink, and mixer maintenance.

The goal of a TMR Audit is to ensure the ration on paper closely resembles what the cows eat. It also evaluates forage quality, silage management, shrink, load preparation, refusals, and feed delivery times.

Taking TMR Audits to new heights using drones

The TMR Audit process requires getting a view into what is happening inside the mixer to be most effective and thorough. Traditionally, this was accomplished by climbing a ladder attached to the mixer and/or utilizing a selfie stick to capture footage of the feed mixing process. Matt Sattler, Ruminant Field Technical Specialist for Cargill’s health technologies business, was convinced there was a better – and safer – way to capture key insights.

Sattler explained that In North America, Cargill has harnessed the agility of drones to improve on-farm safety while gaining deeper perspectives during the TMR Audit process. This ensures rations are uniformly mixed into the dairy feed for optimal consistency and nutritional value for cattle, he said.

Drones capture an enhanced view of the mixing process that was previously impossible to see with the standard TMR Audit processes. Today, in less than 15 minutes, the birds-eye view of a drone captures how the TMR mixer is operating, evaluates the consistency of the feed, and helps identify opportunities for improvements. Within a couple of hours, Cargill’s health technologies team can analyze the footage, identify problems, and present solutions – and video footage – to customers.

Putting it into action

For a customer in Texas, the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” rang true. A brief 10-minute drone flyover identified two problems:

  1. The mixer was operating in the wrong gear resulting in slow auger velocity; and
  2. Feed was getting caught on the outer edges of the mixer, which impacted the feed’s consistency and nutritional value and, ultimately, the health and nutrition of the cattle.

Based on the footage, the Cargill team provided recommendations that the dairy feed team implemented immediately.

“Our core value is to be the trusted experts in animal health and nutrition. Offering this value-add to our customers helps us stay true to our mission,” Sattler said.

You can learn more about other solutions for animal health and well-being here.


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