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Would You Ever Consider Investing In A Self-Propelled Feeder?


Feeding with a self-propelled feeder has elicited plenty of scepticism and many “it’s not for me” pre-conceptions in the past. With many farms now using the system, and many more farm businesses of all sizes showing a keen interest in the system, we address the 4 main apprehensions that farmers have.

AUTHOR: Alistair Morton, Regional Business Manager


“Why would I invest in a self-propelled diet feeding system?” It’s a big question and one that demands and warrants a realistic explanation.  

Compared to Europe, the UK was a little late to the self-propelled party, but confidence and buy-in to the system has been gaining momentum over recent years. 

Manufactured by market-leaders Storti in Italy, where a high percentage of farms have been using a self-propelled feeding system to feed dairy cows and beef cattle for a number of years already, the KEENAN self-propelled comes with an international reputation for long-term profitability. There are machines in Italy with 24,000+ hours on the clock and are still going strong! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t carefully assess the move on each and every farm. 

Over the years, I have sold more than a third of all the KEENAN self-propelled machines that are now in the UK, and have been asked all manor of scrutinising questions. 

If the move is something you’re thinking about, or perhaps it's something you’ve never even considered, I’ve done the work of weighing it up with a realistic and long-term farmer viewpoint. 

Here are the top 4 apprehensions voiced by UK farmers:

1.    Is the self-propelled worth the outlay?
2.    Will the self-propelled machine fit around my farm?
3.    What is the residual value of a self-propelled feeder?
4.    How difficult is the self-propelled to drive?

1. Is the self-propelled worth the outlay?

This question is by far the most commonly asked. And with the average self-propelled system up to 6 times more expensive than the average trailed machine, it is understandable why. It’s not something you are going to jump into without weighing up all the factors. 

To address this, we look at the return in investment opportunity – which is multifactorial. 

To give you a quick bit of perspective, my latest self-propelled customer worked out that just an 0.6-litre uplift in milk per cow per day would pay for the machine in a 5-year period! Most farmers get an immediate 2-litre uplift in milk from the same feed.

The key ROI opportunities to think about: 

1.    Higher feeding accuracy and efficiency. The average trailed feeder runs at 95-96% feeding accuracy, and we typically see a 3% improvement in loading accuracy moving onto a self-propelled feeder. That might not sound a lot, but it’s actually worth around £18,000 a year over 240 cows on today’s average feed pricing. 

When loading feed ingredients with a bucket, it tends to end up in the feeder rather than back in the pile. When loading with the self-propelled, you’re at the pile so you can spit it back out from the header elevator quickly and easily - so less temptation to cut corners when you’ve a busy routine to keep up with! 

The KEENAN self-propelled comes with an NIR (near infra-red) system which provides the ability to ration cattle on the dry matter, rather than on fresh weight. With this, users have saved anywhere between 8% and 15% of their forage per year. 

2.    Less waste at the clamp. The self-propelled feeder gently shaves the pitface, with minimal creases or crevices for silage to spoil and moulds to form. By getting across the pit face quicker, and only taking 6-8 inches at a time. Less surface area is exposed to the elements meaning less valuable energy losses.

3.    Improved animal performance. With the more consistent diet that the self-propelled delivers, the rumen pH is more consistent. This translates to better feed digestion – so more of what you put in is digested into a valuable output. This has also shown to support dry cows in their transition period.

4.    Lower variable running costs. With a self-propelled, you’ve cut 2 machines out of the feeding fleet, which inevitably brings depreciation and fuel savings. 

The direct auger drive system on the KEENAN self-propelled makes it the most fuel efficient on the market, saving 25% more fuel on average than a Hydrostatic drive machine. 

2. Will the self-propelled machine fit around my farm?

Once we have worked through the financials above, the size of the self-propelled is often the next question. 

A common misconception is that the self-propelled is too big to get around the farm. You may be surprised to hear that if you can get a tractor and trailed machine in, you can usually get a self-propelled machine in. 

We deal with all shapes and sizes, and what fits one farm doesn’t fit the next. So all our self-propelled machines are custom-built – in fact I don’t think we have two the same!

How the KEENAN self-propelled is functional on-farm: 

1.    They are mounted on short wheel bases making the machine surprisingly manoeuvrable with small turning circles.

2.    The cab is designed to shape around the tank so you get a shorter machine compared to a tractor and trailed machine.

3.    The machines come in a range of sizes, from a 16-cube MechFiber to a 33-cube Vertical Auger. You can choose elevators, trays and feedout doors to suit your feed passages.

3. What is the residual value of a self-propelled feeder?

This is probably the trickiest question we get asked. As already mentioned, the self-propelled system is relatively new to the UK market, so we’re only just getting the second-hand machines through to get a picture on their resale value. 

That said, we’re seeing a lot of demand for the second-hands, and the original buyers are buying again!

Getting the most for your KEENAN self-propelled: 

1. As already described, you must first consider the machine cost and ensure it will return its full value within the term you plan to have it for. 
2. If you look after your machine in the long run, it would look after you. The machine is set up to be easy to look after, but residual value is completely down to the state of the machine and how well it has been serviced and maintained. 
3. Consider the resale value of the self-propelled against the fleet of a tractor, trailed machine and loader. Everything new is expensive right now. On many systems, there are loaders just filling feeders and tractors, never off the feeder. If you can consolidate your fleet, you consolidate your depreciation.
4. The header is designed so its cutting feed, not cutting and moving at the same time, which takes pressure off of the bearings. 
5. The direct auger drive system is also designed to improve the lifespan of the machine and protect the auger gearboxes. 
6. KEENAN offers a warranty or service contract to provide peace of mind. 

4. How difficult is the self-propelled to drive?

Drivability is an understandable concern as you don’t want to spend all this money and then have the machine damaged, even if you put your best driver on it. 

We actually see the opposite happen. As operators love driving the self-propelled, they have a real affinity to looking after it, to the point they don’t like other people driving it! 

It is, however, important to get the right person on it. Interestingly, the self-propelled helps to attract and keep good staff. The machine has been designed with safety, comfort and ease in mind. Operators don’t have to jump in and out of different cabs. They can stay out of the elements and enjoy heating or air conditioning and the radio. 

Drivability features of the self-propelled: 
1.  The KEENAN self-propelled has reversing sensors and cameras to offer a 360˚ view of the machine. 
2. We offer a comprehensive operator training course on how to run, operate and maintain the machine. This training can be ongoing so the staff know how important it is to look after the machine. 
3. The interior of the cab is designed to be easily cleaned, and it stays clean as the operator is in and out less.     
Some farms offer extra incentives like paying a bonus for reaching specific accuracy targets with no damages.

Want us to weigh it up for you?

So coming back to the question “Why would you invest in a self-propelled diet feeding system”?

To me, the bigger question is, why wouldn’t you?

Here at KEENAN, we’re proud of our transparent data, our success farms, and our service reputation. So we’d be happy to speak to you about how a self-propelled may, or may not, be for your farm business.

​To take your next step, contact KEENAN