VONDA, Sask. — Visitors to this summer’s Ag in Motion farm show near Saskatoon were the first to kick the rugged tires on Highline’s Accumix 1000s, a self-propelled and self-loading feed mixer.
The mixer, which is the only one being manufactured in North America, has been built to meet the challenges that farmers face when feeding cattle in extreme conditions, particularly as the size of cattle operations continues to grow.
“It’s specifically designed for the tougher conditions in Western Canada and through some areas of the U.S., where we sell bale processors now and experience these tough conditions,” said Bob Cochran, general manager at Highline in Vonda.
“Cattle farm sizes are increasing and you get to a point where they start using bulk silage in their ration. Bale processors obviously can’t handle bulk silage. They can only handle bales.”
He said Highline, under its parent company, Bourgault Industries, saw the opportunity to improve efficiencies in feeding bulk silage with a self-propelled, self-loading machine, which is designed and manufactured in Vonda.
The made-at-home approach helps address the challenges of cold temperatures, snow and mud and also uses a North American-styled cab.
“If they’ve operated a sprayer or a combine in North America, they’d be very familiar with the controls and the interface and how the machine feels and drives compared to say a European made self-propelled TMR (total mixed ration machine), which are also being imported into North America but are finding they’re running into some limitations,” he said.
Current European imports perform well with good feed quality, but Cochran said the disadvantage is that they are designed to be operated in a more developed environment with paved surface areas rather than in extreme cold or wet conditions. As well, units equipped with four-wheel drive generally have smaller tires.
The company hopes the Accumix can capitalize on the European-made drawbacks.
Cochran said the machine’s central features are the 1,000 cubic foot mixing tub and two hydraulically driven screws, which the TMR is essentially built around.
The company took the approach of not too big and not too small.
“We figured it hits most of the market segment where the sizes are from 700 up to 1,300, but we’re kind of in the mid-range right now with this size,” he said.
The twin screws, which have three user-customized speeds of one to 55 r.p.m., are mounted on a Highline designed chassis.
It’s powered by a 300 horsepower Caterpillar C7.1 six cylinder diesel engine, hydraulically driven with hydrostatic drive.
The spacious North American styled cab includes a buddy seat for training operators and for spending extended hours. A touch screen display and joystick control the machine’s functions.
Large, off-road tires beef up the unit and add to the high frame clearance and all-wheel steering.
“You can do crab two-wheel or four-wheel steering, which gives you really good manoeuvreability with what is a relatively large machine. It moves around really well,” he said.
A front on-load ribbed rubber belting conveyer system is also a unique feature, which allows for good visibility during unloading.
The tub is equipped with scales to monitor the weight being loaded. When the right amount is reached, the conveyor will stop and be reversed.
“So you have exactly precise amounts put in the tub,” he said.
Cochran said the Accumix stands apart from the competition with the option that it calls the Hired Hand, a self-loading arm that allows a single operator to do all the feeding with one machine.
“Most European manufacturers, the self-propelled units come with an arm,” he said.
“We offer either/or because we believe that there’s a market segment primarily in the feedlots but also in larger dairies as well where they’re running multiple machines and they have a feed plant, or they have a payloader where the operator is constantly loading machines. In that instance, a self-loading arm may not be justified. They can keep multiple units and then it becomes more of a feed delivery unit.”
Another feature of the self-loading arm is that it’s designed to face the silage pit, peels it smooth and solid, which helps preserve silage.
“If it’s loaded or grabbed with a grapple, there’s a very uneven face and there can be a lot of waste on that face if you’re not feeding on a constant basis, where the milling head leaves a really nice clean face on the silage pit,” he said.
At AIM, Cochran said price point was one of the main questions for producers interested in self-propelled TMR technology.
The current retail price on a unit with an arm is $450,000 and slightly less than $400,000 without an arm, which is slightly higher than other machines on the market.
“Then the other thing we’ve done is compared to when you take your cost of production, and if you’re looking at this machine with one operator compared to a pay loader and a tractor and a towed TMR and either one operator spending lots of time getting on and off of machines or two operators, one in each machine — we’re calculating roughly 15 to 20 percent cost savings if that machine is feeding every day,” he said.
The company said the unit is a good fit for dairies, larger cow-calf operations and feedlots that are feeding every day or over an extended period of time and have moved beyond feeding with a bale processor.
Using a payloader in a feedlot operation may be faster if all the commodities are relatively close together, but not as accurate in mixing rations.
Moisture tests have shown a 0.5 percent variance, while two percent is considered acceptable in the industry.
Third party testing has determined that particle size is also within industry standards using several rations.
“(They) said it was as good as they’d seen in a machine. That was kind of a home run for us because it’s a critical element,” he said.
“You can have the greatest machine, but if it can’t mix consistently, it’s like a deal breaker.”