Automated sheep feeder saves on time and mismothering

The 18m long feeder uses a buzzer alarm to alert the sheep when the feeding period has begun.

An automated sheep feeder designed to deliver a controlled maintenance ration at pre-set times and reduce mismothering is an entry in the Henty Agri-Innovators Award.

Called The Shepherd, the solar powered feeder has a programmable timer and sensor, with a buzzer alarm sounding to alert the sheep when the feeding period has begun.

Justin Dunn, of Thunder Valley, runs a 1000 head lamb feedlot and a flock of Australian Whites with a cattle and cropping operation on his Temora farm.

His design of the automated sheep feeder is in the final stages of development following trials of a prototype with feeding a maintenance ration to ewes and lambs this season.

Mr Dunn has plans to refine the design with feedback from sheep producers at the Henty Machinery Field Days.

“I would like to get the feeders out to a few farms, obtain feedback and do the modifications before they are commercially released,’’ he said.

“The Shepherd is ideal for all those people with full-time jobs off-farm or busy work schedules.

“The real benefits we see is time efficiency by eliminating trail feeding – this machine is set to feeding times of 9am and 3.30pm while I’m away at work.

“Grain is so dear at the moment and I didn’t want to have the trouble of trail feeding but it was too expensive to put lick feeders out in the paddock with unlimited access.

“I found the sheep weren’t foraging anymore and were hanging around the (traditional) feeders.

“As a result, I was using a lot more grain than what I do now.’’

Mr Dunn has observed a reduced number of “shy feeders’’ on The Shepherd and suspects this is due to reduced competition at the trough.

He has also observed the sheep foraging more in between the set feeding times.

The other advantage is reduced mismothering compared to trail feeding.

“These feeders are set up in the one spot and the sheep get used to the times as a buzzer sounds when the feed is flowing,’’ he said.

“The sheep move slowly to the feeder as the time approaches and they don’t leave their lambs behind.’’

Scott Blackwell Engineering, of Temora, fabricates the storage bins designed for the feeder.

The sheep feeder is 18m long, has a capacity of 1.7 cubic metres of storage, is capable of supporting a density of approximately 200 lambs at the trough and is equipped with proximity switches to prevent overfilling of the feed trough.

“If there are not many sheep around, the proximity switches will only allow a tray to be filled and then switch off,’’ Mr Dunn said.

“Conversely, if there is a lot of sheep coming in, it will automatically switch on to keep the feed flow up.

“I’m running my feeders for four minutes at a time in the morning and afternoon.

“I use a grouper to reload the bins with a barley and lupin mix and are still finding feed in them by the end of the week.’’

Mr Dunn said processed pellets were yet to be trialled through the feeder.

A corrugated roof runs the full length of the tray as weather protection.

Made from heavy-duty steel, the feeder disassembles into 6m sections for transport.

“There has been a lot of development to get the science right to achieve the desired outcome,’’ Mr Dunn said.

“For all the sheep to access the feed evenly and receive the right ration has been a big task.’’

Mr Dunn said the drought had not hit the region when the idea was originally conceived.

“We wanted to develop a feeder that could start lambs on grain without the risk of acidosis and founder,’’ he said.

“This feeder was able to introduce lambs to grain autonomously and deliver a prescribed ration daily to them based on the producer’s time table.

“As the drought developed, we shifted the first prototype out into the paddock with the lambing ewes and found merit in the sheer saving of time, and peace of mind.

“I was not having to worry about finding lambs and mothering them up due to trail feeding.’’