Feed Mixing 101
By: Jana Gramkow, Ph.D., Great Plains Livestock Consulting,Inc.
Mixing feed is a key quality control point in cattle feeding operations, with the goal being to deliver a consistent ration across the entire bunk every time. Improperly mixed feeds can cause variable cattle performance and intake patterns. Common mixing errors that occur are overloaded mixers, improper mixing times and incorrect loading sequence of ingredients. The order in which you load your ingredients is dependent upon the type of mixer used.
There are two basic types of mixers: vertical and horizontal. Vertical mixers have a large screw in the middle and are designed to handle high forage rations commonly fed by cow/calf producers. Vertical mixers have the ability to process hay bales prior to mixing feed; however, processing hay in a vertical mixer takes a significant amount of time and fuel, making it very inefficient. Since well-balanced rations are not formulated around full bales, the correct amount of hay needs to be added to the mixer initially for the batch being made, or the hay needs to be processed and the extra removed prior to adding other ingredients. Forages need to be processed to a particle size ranging from 0.5 to 2.0 inches long to prevent sorting. Wet feeds should be added next to hold the dry forage down (Table 1). The final ingredients that should be added are grains and balancer, followed by liquids. The weight of the vertical mixer is one of it’s biggest drawbacks. It can be nearly impossible to pull into wet pastures during the spring. Most vertical mixers can be retrofitted for truck tires which gives you more clearance.
Horizontal mixers consist of two to four blending augers and are designed to handle higher grain rations. Grains should be the first ingredients loaded into a horizontal mixer, followed by the balancer (Table 2). This allows for a premixing of the balancer and grain prior to the addition of dry forages and wet feeds.
In all cases mixers should be allowed to mix for 5 minutes after the last ingredient has been added and prior to feeding. This can be done on the way to the first pen. Watch the time to make sure you are allowing for a full 5 minutes. Additionally, it is important not to overload your mixer beyond its capabilities, no more than 80% full. Overloading a mixer can cause dead spots which prevents the feed from mixing.
Servicing of the feeding equipment should be done regularly to maintain good mixability, accurate weighing, and good appearances. Scales should be calibrated monthly and the interior of the mixer box should also be inspected and cleaned monthly.
Safety should always be considered when working with any piece of equipment. Never attempt to dislodge feed jams while the mixer is still running. Safety shields (i.e. PTO shields) should always remain in place to prevent entanglements.
The loading sequences given in this article are general recommendations, they may not suit every operation. If you would like assistance setting up a mixer study to verify the accuracy of your mix or information on which brand of mixer would best suit your needs, please contact one of our consultants.