Not your average creep feeder

Supplement rationing with a self-feeder

The 3IN1Feeder takes self-feeding to a new level with its advanced adjustment system to control the amount of grain consumed during each feeding. Several small feedings during the day helps reduce swings in rumen pH and in turn the animals are able to more efficiently utilize forages.

“The big thing is keeping rumen pH in balance because the rumen microbes that digest fibre (forage) are different from the microbes that digest starch (grain). When you feed five pounds of grain once a day, it takes time for the microbes to adjust back and forth. So, this isn’t just about substituting grain for forage. It’s about complementing grass and forage to get the most out of it,” explains Gerard Roney, inventor and managing director of Advantage Feeders at Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. We met up with him and his North American distributor, Myrna and Marlin Huber of Huber Ag Equipment at Coronation, Alta., at their trade show booth during Canadian Western Agribition.

Roney, who has some background in engineering, law and finance, is a farmer at heart and currently helps run a grain farm and 2,000-ewe sheep flock with his father. His search for a safe and convenient way to supplement with a low level of grain after lambing and on pasture was the motivator for coming up with a way to accurately ration grain from a self-feeder.

He started work on the prototype 10 years ago and within three years had 3IN1Feeders ready to take to the marketplace. They are now available in 10 countries and it was Myrna Huber’s insistence on bringing the innovation to Canada that spurred him to set up a distribution system in North America. This also involved tweaking the feeders for the Canadian market with a protective coating to prevent tongues from sticking to the galvanized sheet-metal construction in cold weather.

Huber is the central contact for orders and customer service because making the most of opportunities the 3IN1Feeder offers does require some background information and coaching. The units come in three sizes and are stocked and ready for immediate pickup or delivery, flat-packed or assembled, at locations in all western provinces and Ontario.

She came across 3IN1Feeders during her own search for a way to safely and conveniently feed grain and says they have used 3IN1Feeders for control-feeding sheep, goats and now cattle. They come in handy year round from feeding barley to steers and replacement heifers in winter, to supplementing first-time calvers, to creep feeding calves on pasture.

“For example, we were short of moisture this spring and wanted to conserve our pasture as much as we could, as well as make sure the first-time calvers would be in good condition for providing sufficient milk to their calves and be bred again in a timely manner,” Huber explains.

Roney says control feeding mother cows from one side of the feeder and setting up the panels to creep feed calves from the other side is a great way to train calves to use the feeder at a very young age.

He suggests introducing calves to grain as early as three to four weeks of age so that they start developing rumen capacity and are primed for efficient digestion of forages and the best possible weight gains on pasture.

Dairy research has proven that providing a high-starch calf starter promotes early rumen development for a smooth transition from monogastric to ruminant digestion.

Calves are born with small, non-functional rumens. Milk bypasses the rumen for the first few weeks of life to enter the omasum and abomasum, where it is digested by enzymes rather than by fermentation.

Rumen development starts as a calf begins to eat solid feeds. Bacterial populations that act on fibre and starch need time to build in the rumen while the papillae necessary for absorption of nutrients form on the interior of the rumen wall. Grain is key because starches are fermented by bacteria that produce high-energy propionic and butyric acids. Butyric acid is the main source of energy for rumen cells and growth of the rumen wall.

3IN1FEEDERs are portable by skidding, lifting with a front-end loader or locked onto the optional trailer so that calves have easy access to controlled amounts of grain for efficient forage utilization all the while they are on pasture right through weaning.

Controlled feeding

The adjuster plates, running the length of the feeder on both sides, can be set wide open (1-1/2″) for free-choice feeding and narrowed to 5/16″ for control feeding small ruminants. A cow’s tongue fits into a 9/16″ gap, which limits grain intake to four pounds per day. The gap is narrowed for calves to reduce intake to as little as one pound a day.

Daily grain intake can be increased by widening the adjuster plates little by little every few days as livestock adjust to higher levels of grain in the diet. Most types of pellets are suitable for feeding through the 3In1FEEDERs depending on pellet size and hardness.

Likewise, safely transitioning to high-starch grains such as barley, wheat or corn can be accomplished step by step. Start with a low-risk supplement, such as oats or pellets, for a few days and then substituting 25 per cent of the oats with the high-starch grain every five to seven days.

A regulation table with adjuster plate settings corresponding to grain intake is permanently fixed to the feeder for handy reference and an incremental volume scale on the inside along with sight glasses make it easy to monitor daily consumption.

For free-choice feeding, the two adjuster plates are set to the wide-open position to let livestock scoop the grain from the groove. Any that does fall into the catch-trough is readily consumed because it’s easier for animals to get at than licking it from the grooves.

In this way, there’s no waste from spillage or buildup of grain in the trough that might go mouldy or attract pests. The grain in the feeder is always protected from the elements and vermin and only the small amount in the grooves is exposed if rain does happen to drive in from less than a 45-degree angle.

Producers appreciate that this system puts bossy animals in their place because the bosses don’t produce any more saliva than timid animals. A removable adjuster guard that divides the groove into four-inch sections prevents animals from running their tongues along the length of the groove. With the adjuster guard in place, there’s no reason for bossy animals to push others aside because grain delivery is consistent from section to section.

There’s a big labour-saving advantage, too. Even high-starch grains don’t need to be rolled or cracked because the kernels taken in small amounts throughout the day are held with forage in the rumen longer than when grain is fed in one or two larger feedings each day.

The largest size feeder at 3,800 litres (108 bushels) holds 5,700 pounds of barley or 6,500 pounds of wheat and accommodates 40 cattle, either 20 cow-calf pairs or 40 calves. At the lowest intake level of four pounds per day for cows, the feeder would need to be refilled every 35 days. At half that for calves, one fill would last about 70 days.

Pay day

In Australia, a backgrounding trial supplementing calves with barley reduced time on perennial pasture from 185 days to 127 days to take the calves from 517 pounds to the target weight of 880 pounds. The associated expense including the cost of the barley, depreciation on the feeder, and labour to fill the feeder worked out to $33 per head. The total gain was 83.7 lbs./head more than the non-supplemented group. At a selling price of $1.60/lb., the additional value was $133.92 per calf for a net profit of $100.90 per calf.

Another trial involved 120 newly weaned Angus steers averaging 475 lbs. grown out to a finished weight of 1,030 lbs. on 40 acres of perennial sorghum pasture and 100 acres of grazing oat crops. This operator buys steers from the same place every year and typically realizes gains of 1.72 lbs./day over the 315-day feeding period. Control feeding short-cut pellets at 4.4 lbs./head/day increased average daily gain to 3.01 lbs./day to finish the steers in 182 days on average. The associated expense worked out to $132.88 per head and the value of the additional gain was $390.21 per head netting an additional $257.33 per head.

A 60-day trial in New Zealand involving 120 long yearling steers receiving hay and grazing winter forage rape showed that the steers fed 2.2 lbs./head/day of barley gained 1.1 lbs./day more than those in the control group. The net additional profit of $107.47 per head includes the savings in winter forage consumption of $.49 per head per day. Forage-rape intake was reduced by seven lbs./head/day by supplementing with grain, but gains improved, presumably because they were able to utilize the feed more efficiently.

3IN1Feeders range in price from $1,180 to $2,330 for the assembled basic model on skids. For more information and pricing call Myrna Huber at 1-800-806-0715 or visit

About the author


Stories from our other publications