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Visiting the feed mills

The Exeter feed mill

In October I was fortunate to visit two ForFarmers feed mills, both located in the south west of England. The first mill I visited was in Exeter. The mill has undergone a significant rebuild and restructuring process over the last two years and this has increased the mill’s output capacity from 140,000 to 300,000 tonnes of animal feed a year. The state of the art mill is one of a kind and the redevelopment cost was around £10 million.

The second mill I visited was the Portbury mill which is where I am predominantly based. It was very interesting for me to be able to follow the journey of feed, from raw materials to processing to finished compounded feed.

The processes in the feed mill

Inner workings of the mill

A lot of hard work, technology and precision goes into creating high quality feed. The process begins with the raw materials for example cereals, protein and binding agents such as molasses. These commodities arrive at the docks in Portbury and are delivered to the mill on a daily basis.

When the raw materials are delivered they are weighed on the weighbridge and undergo a visual and moisture check. Once completed they are deposited in the relevant bins or tanks. I didn’t realise there would be so much storage for example, Exeter has 64 raw materials bins.

I then visited the control room and learnt how the computers send raw materials from the bins to the grinders to be mashed up. The grinders are made up of grinder plates (metal sheets with multiple holes) and 132 small metal beaters which spin round grinding the material until it can pass through the grinder plates. These important parts wear down over time so are changed every week to ensure consistent quality.

Pellets are produced in all different sizes

Once the feed has been processed the diameters are then computerised in the control room. ForFarmers manufactures a wide range of different types of feeds and these vary in size and length. For example, ewe rolls are 14mm in diameter and 40mm length, meanwhile dairy pellets are a lot smaller at 6mm and 3mm.

The mill operators also create mixes from the control room. These are created for a specific feed and once the materials have been ground, they are steamed and mollassed. Then they come out the press at between 55 – 80˚C and are cooled to around 21˚C. The pellets then undergo quality control before being fat coated and stored in our 64 finish product bins to await loading onto lorries for their final destinations. I was really impressed that ForFarmers Blends are made fresh to order and is ready to go 24 hours a day, our compound feed is made day 1 for day 3 allowing a curing process to help bond/cool the nut for maximum quality. Some feed waste is also reused through our returns process, any waste that is not suitable for feed will then go to a composting site.

Quality control

Afbeelding: Testing the hardeness

I visited the quality control room which analyses feed closely. The feed is tested in two main ways, using a shaker (Holmen) and a hardness test (Khal), these ensure that only good quality feed is issued to farms.

I was first shown the hardness test. We took a pellet and placed it in a kahl tester, force was then applied. The results were recorded and this determines the ‘hardness’. I was informed that the hardness should be no less than 8-10 for 6mm>, however bigger pellets at 14mm< will need a result of between 15-25.

The Holmen test determines how well pellets will survive during transportation and being blown into feed silos. We took 100 grams of pellets and placed them into the shaker. After the programme was complete, they were removed, visually checked and weighed. In order for pellets to pass they must not weigh less than 98 grams.

Getting feed safely to customers

The ForFarmers fleet of lorries has a diverse mix of bulk, blowers and tanks. Depending on the feed and nature of the job, the transport team allocate lorries and drivers to specific jobs.  

At Exeter lorries are weighed on the weighbridge and then proceed to the loading bays. Once ready the driver activates the order and the robotic dispensers then automatically line up and drop the feed into the relevant compartments. This process is really efficient and saves a lot of time. Customer tickets and paperwork are then generated and at this point the driver is ready to hit the road.

Thank you to all of the mill staff who showed me around and answered my questions. I really enjoyed seeing the inner workings and processes of the Exeter and Portbury feed mills.