McAREE Engineering, based at Ballinode, County Monaghan, manufactures and supplies the award-winning V-Mac range of animal feed silos to livestock farmers, pig and poultry producers in the UK and Ireland.
However, feed consumption can often be faster than expected and the meal bins can run out of stock. This puts severe pressure on feed compounders as they may have to schedule deliveries at short notice and often at weekends, thereby incurring extra costs and may find staff unavailable.
If feed supplies are interrupted valuable animals will be under stress, performance will suffer and profitability will be reduced.
According to Peter Richardson from McAree Engineering: “It can be difficult to see what is in a feed silo and manual checking takes time which is in short supply on busy farms. Remote monitoring was traditionally very expensive. For example, load cells per silo can cost €4,000-€8,000 depending on size and weights.
“Previous technology was not connected to the internet so a customer could not receive text alerts on their smart iPhone. We have often been asked for a cost-effective solution for monitoring V-Mac Silo content, unfortunately up until now we haven’t been able to recommend a solution.”
At the start of 2021, McAree Engineering met Barry Finnegan from the Irish firm Lvlogics, based at Oldcastle, County Meath, who have an innovative cost effective solution.
It has developed a feed silo monitoring system that is being trialled on a few Irish farms, including Kiernan Piggeries in Longford, UCD Lyons Farm and elsewhere, who are all using V-Mac feed silos.
Mr Richardson said: “We see this system as a solution to make silos smart through its ability to provide real time stock levels, measure and control silo temperature and humidity and all the benefit this brings with increased control, improved feed quality, farm safety, etc.”
The new AgTechUCD centre, a Connector Innovation Hub, at UCD Lyons Farm has brought the use of innovative technologies at Lyons to the fore. NovaUCD, the university’s Centre for New Ventures and Entrepreneurs, was awarded €3 million from the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) to lead this exciting project in collaboration with AIB, Kildare County Council and Kildare LEO and several agri-companies and investors, including Devenish, Dairymaster, Glanbia, Finistere, The Yield Lab and Atlantic Bridge.
The hub aims to bring together Ireland’s wider AgTech community and help with the launching and scaling of AgTech companies by providing access to on-farm research collaboration opportunities, as well as a location to test and trial their products and services in a real-world environment.
UCD Lyons Farm has a herd of 200 pedigree Holstein cows split into two main herds. The herd-1 is a split calving herd of 140 cows, that comprises of 80 spring calving cows and 60 autumn calving cows. The herd-2 has 60 spring calving cows that aims to investigate the feasibility of a high input/output spring calving milk production system for farmers on a fixed land bank.
The farm has six V-Mac feed silos manufactured by McAree Engineering on site. These feed silos are used to store beef and dairy rations along with numerous feed diets currently being trialled at UCD Lyons.
Since February 2021 UCD has been using Lvlogics system to monitor feed silo stock levels and to check the humidity and temperature of the various feed diets stored in the six meal bins. Backed by Lely, the Lvlogics system provides accuracy on silo contents to within two to three per cent.
Dr Eddie Jordan, the farm manager and the team at Lyons, can access all this data easily on their smartphone or on the office computer. When feed stocks fall to a predetermined level they receive an alert and can order further supplies in good time.
The plan is to allow feed millers access to this data so they can manufacture the speciality diets and arrange delivery in a more cost-effective manner.
The laser sensors used by Lvlogics system have a patented self-cleaning mechanism to deal with the dust in a silo, so the data supplied is always accurate.
According to Eddie Jordan: “Prior to installing this system monitoring feed stocks was very time consuming and we didn’t always get it right. It can be difficult to see what is in a silo and manual checking takes time.”
Eddie explained: “Due to changing weather conditions the humidity and temperature in the feed silos could change leading to condensation, etc.
“So we could have unforeseen problems with feed bridging in the silos or going mouldy.”
Humidity checking is becoming more important with more complex feeds which have a range of additives and are more reactive to heat and humidity. The feed silo monitoring system can be powered by batteries, mains electricity or even solar panels.
This technology is unique, patented and Irish. The multiple award-winning Lvlogics system, which has worldwide potential due to its ability to improve feed quality, farm safety and logistics issues, was developed by Barry and Eileen Finnegan, who are based at Oldcastle, County Meath.
According to Barry Finnegan: “It is estimated that logistics cost of more than €2 billion is wasted globally per annum, due to inefficient deliveries of compound feeds.
“Access to levels data within feed silos can dramatically improve logistic planning and significantly reduce this waste.
“Also, the improved safety on farms, as the need to climb silos to determine levels is eliminated, is a significant benefit of system. According to the New York Times, between 2007 and 2014, 80 people lost their lives in North America from accidents in feed silos or falling from silos, which can be up to 40m in height.”