Demonstration. Farm visit to demonstrate the Autofeed system on a beef finisher farm in Italy

On Thursday the 9th of June 2022 a farm visit took place on the farm of the Nodari family near Castiglione delle Steviere in the province of Mantua in Northern Italy. Objective of the visit was to show the functioning of the automatic feeding system applied on this farm, that counts 1,200 places for finisher bulls and heifers. Alltogether 30 farmers, advisers, researchers and staff of the company Lely participated at the visit. The visit was organised by CRPA together with UNICARVE and CREA, the national research centre for agriculture, division "Agricultural Machinery". CRPA,, CREA, the University of Milan, Panoramic and five dairy and beef farms are collaborating in a Operational Group Autofeed.

The main benefits of the autofeed system is the saving of labour, the reduction of fossil energy use, the improvement of the technical performances of the finisher bulls and heifers and the increase of animal welfare as the system is generating much less noise and the animals have frequent access to their feed. The fully mixed feed is administered at least 5 or 6 times per day, whereas with the conventional system the animals receive only twice a day their feed. The autofeed system can be programmed in such a way that different feed rations are prepared for different boxes, where either animals are separated by breed or by age category. In this way a full optimisation of feeding can be reached with a significant reduction of wasted feed. This possibility allows to obtain at least a 100gr increase per day of the average daily growth (ADG) with less feed, which contributes to a better feed conversion rate. As the system is full electric, solar panels installed on the roofs of the farm buildings can easily cover the electricity demand of the system even together with the demand of electric ventilation fans.

A farm equipped with two mixing wagons and a fully equipped kitchen, where the feed ingredients are stocked has an investment cost of about 300,000 €. The Lely company visits the farm three times a year for maintenance and substitution of technical devices. A maintenance and service contract foresees immediate intervention within 24 hours, if the system for any reason blocks.

Two drawbacks are that when the farm is construced on slopes the mixing wagons cannot reach all buildings. Moreover, the limited size of the wagons does not allow a very high chopping capacity, which is lower than for conventional mixing wagons trailed by a tractor. Therefore the feed stocked in the kitchen should be pre-chopped either in the field or in the stocking facilities. 

The following pictures and videos provide an impression of the farm visit, which was judged by the present farmers as very interesting. In Italy the number of beef cattle farms equipped with the autofeed system is gradually increasing.