This month, FMS Specialist Abbie Rose spent some time at one of our Vector farms using the Penn State Shaker Box to collect data on Vector performance. The farm she was analyzing recently added an additional Mixing Feeding Robot (MFR) with a high-speed mixing auger, so it was time to review how the Vector was performing.
What is a shaker box, and why do we use it? A shaker box, also referred to as a particular separator, is an important tool to collect quantitative data on farm. Nutritionists have a few different uses for the tool, but in our Lely world, we use it to make sure the Vector is loading and mixing effectively so that each cow gets the same bite of ration, no matter where they are eating at the bunk.
The shaker box has four different tiers. Each layer has smaller holes, and the last layer is a screen that allows the finest particles through. In the picture above, Abbie is holding the top tier on the right side of the picture and the second tier on the left.
To complete the analysis, grab a scoop of freshly delivered feed and put it in the top tier. Slide the box on the ground toward you and away from you five times. Next, turn the box in a quarter rotation and shake five more times. Repeat this process of five slides, with eight quarter turns, or until the box has rotated completely two times. Once that step is completed, you then weigh the contents of each tier – A, B, C, and D. You will notice the long particles length, like forage, stay on top at tier A, while the concentrates and minerals are able to make it all the way to the bottom on tier D.
We take 10 samples throughout the length of the bunk. With our data, we plug each sample into a spreadsheet which tells us the Coefficient of Variation (CV) between each sample. CV is a fancy way to say how far away we are from the average. Our goal is to have the CV be less than 5% at each tier.
So, what happens if we have more than 5% CV? Some possible reasons for a higher CV could be that the long-stemmed forages are not getting pre-processed enough. We might not be loading the correct ingredients in the correct order, or we might be putting too much of one ingredient into the load at once. Mixing times also affect how consistent our ration is delivered through the length of the bunk. If a farm has high CV and needs advanced troubleshooting, we are fortunate to have the input from Ben Thorpe at Lely North America. Ben works with Vector farms across North America and has experience and insight that our farms find valuable. Together, our FMS team can collect data, analyze, and review with our customers to make improvements for the cows and the herd.