THE "mothership" - one of Australia's largest known purpose built, self-propelled trail feeders - has landed at Darkan.
The six-and-a-half tonne (86 bag) capacity feeder was created by Brookton-based Eagle Eye Engineering and features a wireless target control system, cab mounted R420 indicator, electric actuator, roll tarp and a split bin with individual bin control.
It is a far cry from the old "bucket and rope" trail feeding days - a system which relies heavily on "guesswork" when it comes to how much grain and pellets are being fed out.
Earlier this year, Darkan sheep farmer David Warren approached Eagle Eye Engineering director Daniel Watkins with the idea - wanting to make feeding time more productive and profitable.
"I told Daniel I wanted the biggest, gravity discharge feeder he could build," Mr Warren said.
"And this is what I ended up with - it is bloody good."
Mr Warren runs 11,000 mated ewes - including 4500 crossbreds and 6500 Merinos - across 2500 hectares.
Eagle Eye Engineering mostly builds traditional 2t and 4t sheep feeders and uses the governing factors of what a typical ute can pull.
However, Mr Watkins decided to embrace Mr Warren's challenge and push the limits of trail-feeding, using a 2002 Scania P Series P114 truck as a canvas.
"David had this heavy duty truck, I was messaging him and we were talking about it, wondering, 'Well, how big can we go?'" Mr Watkins said.
"I put all the details into the computer and realised I could stretch it this big, to stay within the limits of what the truck could do.
"Unofficially, I would say this is as kick arse as a trail feeder can get."
So how does the system work?
The feeder bin is loaded onto the truck and placed into container corner casts and fork skids.
This means it can easily be lifted on-and-off the truck, allowing the vehicle to be universally used for dual-purpose.
Mr Warren then uses Eagle Eye Engineering's application on his phone or tablet device to program his feed target weight.
For example - he enters 500 kilograms into the app, presses start on the R420 load cell indicator, drives at the travel speed he desires and the rest is done autonomously.
Weight of feed is detected through four load cells, which are placed in each corner, calibrated and receive all of the information.
The machine automatically shuts off once the target has been reached with the help of those cells.
Mr Watkins said it should be within five kilograms of accuracy the entire time when feeding out to all the different mobs of sheep.
"The load cells tell the indicator exactly what is going on including when to open and shut the feeder," he said.
"There is an electric actuator, which receives the electric signal from the indicator inside of the vehicle.
"So when start is pressed, a signal is sent to open and once it has been told where the weight is, a signal will be sent to close.
"David is then able to review the log to keep track of where all the feed data is."
The information is stored inside the trail feeder and is downloadable in an Excel spreadsheet format.
The spreadsheet can be used to manage the day-to-day running of the farm and to check the right amount of kilograms have been dropped each day.
A"bullet-proof" local Wi-Fi network - built onto the feeder - is used to run the system with a 200m signal radius in a manual labour ride.
This network continues operating even in a situation where the device has gone flat.
For Mr Warren, this means he could be 100m away in a loading shed and stay connected, while receiving a live weight of exactly what was being loaded into the unit.
He said introducing such technology to his system had proved important in cost-saving onfarm.
"You know how you've fed out and you know it shuts off after that is done - it works spot on," Mr Warren said.
"I get a feed budget done and we know what we need to feed, when to increase the feed and that kind of thing.
"At the moment we are feeding lupins twice a week, one kilogram per head.
"We are about to take the rams out now, so we may decrease that slightly, but as the sheep are further on in their pregnancy they may get a bit more."
When it comes to Mr Warren's feeder, the governing factor is for grain to be fed through the bottom of the system.
This - and the fact the feeder is self-propelled and purpose built - is what separates it from traditional 5-in-1 bins and chaser bins.
Knowing the importance of not compromising grain flow, Mr Watkins ensured the centre of gravity on Mr Warren's feeder was as low as he could get it.
"There wasn't an auger placed on the unit, this is entirely gravity fed, so you just open the door and the feed comes out," Mr Warren said.
"It has been very good so far and it doesn't make sheep feeding seem like a chore.
"When you are loading, you can stand by the auger and shut it off because you have the weight on your phone."
Mr Warren said it would be handy for those loading with a front-end loader or telehandler.
"You could have the phone in the cab with you and know exactly how much you were putting in the feeder," he said.
"On another note, it is very efficient and I think it would almost cut feeding time in half, when it comes to travelling between the three farms.
"Not only that, but the system helps you to identify where sheep are performing and it gives you the ability to travel through undulating country with confidence that everything is stable."
Overall, Mr Watkins said Mr Warren's feeder was "pretty well up-to-date".
However, he labelled the technology as "entry level" in terms of the direction he sees the future of sheep feeding heading.
"There are a lot of units prior to this where guys will log on and continue upgrading as we keep developing," Mr Watkins said.
"The next step we are working on is basically attaching locations to the kilograms of feed dispersed.
"We are trying to crack the code that no one has ever really touched before and we want to create all the algorithms to make this work."
Mr Watkins added that there was a lot of science behind sheep feeding, which he wanted to adapt into his units, alongside a user-friendly software, to ensure the entire farm program gelled together.
He said a number of farmers across WA were already benefiting from Eagle Eye Engineering's technology.
"We originally released the target control system and we achieved the number of sales we thought we would in 12 months, in the first two.
"I think what we are able to offer now is so many levels above.
"For example - it is the only sheep feeder farmers can operate through their smartphone."
The company recently marked another milestone with the target control system, where confinement feeders have started to use augers to feed into feedlot pens.
Mr Watkins labelled it as "target control V2".
"So say a farmer wanted to batch out 500 kilograms into the pen through the auger, they can use the phone to operate that and the trail feeding side of it," he said.
"Target control has traditionally been about this gravity feed and dropping it through the bottom.
"Now, they can actually target control through an auger as well.
"That puts another feather in the cap with the target control system for those who are doing confinement feeding.
"As a company, we are still constantly progressing the target control system in general, including the software side of it."
Mr Watkins said the biggest thing Eagle Eye Engineering focused on was how to make farmers' lives easier.
He admitted that while he was not a farmer, he was able to find a bridge between using his trade skills, understanding farming processes and then meshing that together to create ideas.
"I felt like there was a canvas there that wasn't being taken advantage of in farmer feedback," Mr Watkins said.
"So our trail feeder is kind of like a 'farmer trail feeder' in using all of that feedback for the design.
"Only today, David made a very simple point of some feedback on how we can improve the product and that's where it all starts.
"Listening and taking all those things puts us where we are, we get all the credit for it but realistically there's probably 50 farmers behind every concept that's in this bin."
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