Getting The “Right Mix” This Winter
By: Terri Queck-Matzie
Feeding cattle in the winter can be a challenge. Sub-zero temps, biting winds, flying snow – none of these make for stress-free circumstances.
Add equipment breakdowns to the mix, and its enough to make even the most dedicated cattle feeder head to the Internet to research new careers.
“The last thing you want to do is be out there dealing with equipment failure when the problem is something that could have been taken care of ahead of time,” says Kelly Smith, product specialist for PMR Mixers with Kuhn North America, Inc.
Smith joins a host of feeding equipment experts who cite pre-season equipment maintenance as the single most effective way to reduce winter feeding problems.
“We encourage all our customers to check both the truck and mixer before winter starts,” says Mark Cooksey, President and COO of Roto-Mix in Dodge City, Kansas. “And we still see a spike in service calls with the first blizzard.” He says, oddly enough, it is often feeders in the southern states that are caught off guard. Those in northern regions have already learned their lessons the hard way.
Along with making sure moving parts are greased and oil baths are sufficient, Cooksey says to be sure to check battery connections, fuel filters, and general engine condition.
Smith says to also check those tires, an item that is often overlooked.
Verlyn Rozeboom, Senior Vice President of Sioux Automation Center, Inc., located in Sioux Center, Iowa, adds making sure the PTO shaft is well lubricated to the list. “Even when amply greased in the summer, in the winter that grease gets gummy,” he says. “It’s best to put some light oil or Never Seez on it to make sure it telescopes in and out.” He also says to keep the discharge apparatus well maintained. “Don’t just check the oil bath, make sure the chains are properly adjusted.”
Smith says to check with your regular dealer on pre-season maintenance packages that offer a special price for winter-related preventative maintenance. The professionals are trained to think of details the operator may overlook.
Because, well, because it’s cold
Obviously, those who are able to store equipment inside have an edge in fighting frigid temps. But for those who don’t have the option, there are still precautions that can help. Block heaters will help trucks and tractors start on cold mornings and reduce the risk of gelled fuel. Feeders will also want to check their fuel supply to make sure their winter blend is sufficient.
“You’ll want to watch your fuel and your hydraulics,” says Cooksey. “And beware water in the oil bath. If it freezes it will cause bearing failure.” Extreme cold brings its own headaches. “When it gets to 20 below zero, then you see metal fatigue and metal breaks easier.”
Rozeboom suggests always starting the mixer before filling it to make sure it is in working condition. “Giving it a test run is good practice in winter and summer,” says Rozeboom.
Albert Posthumus with Mixer Center in Stephenville, Texas, says a pre-start is especially essential with stationary mixers. “When it’s real cold, let the mixer run slow for a bit to warm up the oil,” says Posthumus. “Otherwise you can blow filters and pump the oil dry.”
Keeping the mixer running smoothly is often a matter of keeping it clean. “Any rations with moisture in them will freeze,” says Cooksey. “If you leave it in the mixer, it will freeze in the mixer.”
Smith adds feed additives are often sticky and that accentuates the problem. “Clean the mixer at the end of every day, or even more often if it needs it. If it freezes overnight it can be a challenge to start and moving parts can break.”
Keeping equipment clean helps with efficient operation not just in winter’s cold, but year-round. “Feed and feed additives are acidic and corrosive,” adds Rozeboom. “If you leave it in the mixer, it creates a thin layer of rust, and that adds to equipment wear and tear.”
Smith says general cleanliness and upkeep around the feedyard is helpful. Keeping bunks swept clean of uneaten feed prevents it from freezing down and spoiling. Taking care to cover commodities and other feedstuffs can prevent frozen chunks that can damage the mixer.
“Frozen chunks can come from around the edges in upright silos, too,” says Cooksey. “When they get in the mixer they can really tear things up.”
Smith says also keep an eye on water tanks: “If the water source is frozen, feed intake will go down.”
All of these extras may be the last thing feeders want to do when the snow is flying, but the extra time spent out in the yard will likely pay off in preventing crises.
“The feed wagon gets used 365 days a year and it’s probably the most under maintained piece of equipment in the yard,” says Rozeboom. “Everybody’s in a hurry to get chores done. Their mind’s on what to do that day. It’s easy to put issues off until tomorrow or next week.
But winter is not the time to put off even the slightest of problems. Instead, it is the time to tend to every detail before problems are accentuated by the weather.
“Pay extra close attention to those service schedules,” says Cooksey, “and keep your equipment dealer’s phone number handy.”