Technology: Nearest thing to having a nutritionist in the farmyard, as Keenans plan mixer upgrade

A Keenan mixer wagon on display at One: The Alltech Ideas Conference in Lexington, Kentucky.

Keenan mixer wagon users can look forward to continuing improvement in the machines, following the purchase of the company by Alltech.

Keenan is working with Intel on improving how the PACE (Performance Acceleration and Control Enhancement) box on the machine sends information back and forth between the machine and Keenan nutritionists in the InTouch centres in France and Ireland.

The aim is for every user of Keenan’s InTouch system to have the nearest thing to having a nutritionist standing beside him, every time he uses the machine.

John McCurdy, the director of innovation at Keenan System, says the new PACE box will speed up the flow of information, and connect it better with devices such as phones to transmit milk information from dairy farms, or weight recordings from beef farms. 

The more information the InTouch nutritionists, the better they can advise customers on how to improve herd performance.

The extra sensors and better connectivity being developed with Intel could be on machines later this year, and in 2017, the plan to add near-infra-red (NIR) feed analysis to machines.

This is already used by companies such as John Deere on their more advanced harvesters, for crop analysis during collection, and now that the cost of NIR is coming down, Keenan’s aim is that users will have it to analyse the TMR going through the machine.

Designed for a gentle mix to retain the best forage structure for healthy livestock, with proven advantages such as high feed intakes and efficiency, and less of the acidic rumen conditions which can sicken cattle, the Keenan mixers are fitted with PACE boxes which guide users step by step through the daily animal feeding routine, ensuring a consistent mix, and tracking how much feed is used.

Through cloud-based internet, PACE also lets Keenan nutritionists thousands of miles away monitor the feeding routine, and issue advice to help farmers achieve constant improvement in herd performance.

When milk yield and analysis figures are also sent to the nutritionists, they have all the information needed to provide feed advice to dairy farmers.

A similar service can be provided to beef farmers, if daily liveweight gain is monitored.

Farmers can call the nutritionists for advice, however, the more usual procedure is for nutritionists at InTouch centres in Ireland or France to spot performance deteriorating and to call the farmer, offering advice.

In 2015, the nutritionists in the Borris, Co Carlow InTouch centre made 14,000 calls to Keenan users to alert them and help them respond to reduced herd performance.

They also took 6,000 incoming calls from InTouch customers.

It took Alltech (the only privately held and family-owned business among the top 10 animal health companies in the world) just four weeks to buy Keenan, a brand they knew and admired, whose feed mixers are used on 20,000 farms worldwide.

Dr Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech, has described the InTouch system which provides online nutritionist monitoring and advice to Keenan mixer users as “the jewel in Keenan’s crown”, and has announced plans to extend it to countries such as the US, Germany, and Japan.

At Alltech’s recent One conference in Kentucky, USA, nutritionists Catherine Heffernan and Eva Griffin were showing how InTouch works for more than 2,000 customers around the world (about one fifth of whom are beef farmers).

Catherine and Eva were able to plug into the system and give advice to farmers in Europe, 4,800 miles away.

The PACE box sends them information on the diet fed, and together with the farm’s milk or beef information, they can tell if animal performance is satisfactory (helped by an inbuilt alert in the system which tells them if a farmer seems to have a problem).

One of the farmers Eva Griffin was in contact with from Kentucky was a UK dairy farmer. Information coming back to her from the PACE box on the farmer’s mixer, and his milk information, indicated that feed conversion efficiency had fallen to 1.09, compared to the UK benchmark of 1.33.

She could also see that herd milk yield and protein content had dropped. She looked at the diet information and was able to conclude that energy content was too low in the new pit of maize silage the farmer had started feeding.

Eva and her colleagues can deal with 300 customers each, whereas Keenan nutritionists on the ground calling to farmers can deal with only about 60. 

However, the staff on the ground play a vital role in communication with customers, and in the follow-up after each interaction, to see how the farmer is getting on.

Another farmer Eva helped while manning the InTouch desk in Kentucky was an Irish midlands dairy farmer looking for advice on how best to utilise fodder beet for cows at grass (the advice was to ensile it with soya hulls, thus providing a high dry matter feed to complement grass).

A UK farmer running out of soda-wheat wanted advice on what to replace it with, for his cows at grass.


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