Feed Mixers: Not Just a Piece of Iron
The market for feed mixers is growing in North America, but it takes a dedicated, knowledgeable dealership to sell them successfully.
John Dobberstein, Associate Editor
Like most pieces of agricultural equipment, feed mixers have evolved technologically over time. And they’ve become more important than ever to the success of dairy and beef farmers, as well as farm equipment dealers who pursue this market.
This evolution has been necessary, as livestock operations have become larger and more sophisticated and their owners focused more on flexibility and efficiency.
Grinder mixers and reel- or auger-type mixers already on the scene are still used on many dairies, cattle ranches and feed lots. This is especially true when farmers want to mix small batches of feed, or the cost of new technology outweighs the benefits.
But vertical mixers are carving out a big piece of the market due to their flexibility with feedstuffs and ability to handle large bales of dry hay when poorer-quality hay requires blending.
Many of the newer mixers are designed to render a total-mix ration, or “TMR,” where every mouthful of feed taken by an animal is nearly identical in terms of nutrition — a necessity if producers want to maintain a healthy herd, nutritionists say.
Some manufacturers told Farm Equipment at the World Dairy Expo last fall that they’re focusing on making and selling vertical mixers. A few others continue to offer a variety of mixing technologies to meet customer demand. Regardless of the mixer type, selling them requires dealers to have top-notch product knowledge and support capabilities to keep customers happy.
“I didn’t know what we were getting into at the beginning of this,” says Joe Dues, who’s been selling Jay Lor and LuckNow feed mixers for North Star Hardware & Implement in North Star, Ohio, for the past 9 years.
“Coming from a dairy farm I have some background feeding cattle, but that was 10 years ago. The way cattle are fed today, you have to stay on top of what’s happening out there.”
And there’s another variable for dealers to consider: the advice farmers receive from nutritionists on how to feed their cattle, and what type of mixers they should consider.
Vertical Mixers Coming On
Dan Meyer, salesman for Dairyland Supply Inc. in Sauk Centre, Minn., says dairy farmers are growing accustomed to using vertical mixers because of their ability to handle large loads of dry hay. Horizontal auger mixers are more often used in the beef industry for cow-calf operations or feed lots, although dealers like Meyer say more beef producers are switching to verticals to avoid having to grind hay before mixing.
He estimates 80% of his dealership’s customers are dairy farmers, but he sees beef production growing.
“Verticals open the door for a lot more feed ingredients. Prior to that, there were limitations on particle length and what could be put in a mixer,” Meyer says. “With a vertical you can put in long-stemmed material without having to worry about locking up or bending something.”
Possible downsides to vertical mixers are the horsepower requirements, and possible damage to feed materials like high grain rations or flaked corn because of the aggressive mixing action. Some experts say that impact can be minimized in a vertical mixer if the machine is calibrated correctly.
Truck-mounted mixers are still found in the market, mostly for multi-farm operations where the mixers are transported over longer distances.
Meyer says much of the industry is moving away from truck-mounted mixers, especially ones loaded with verticals because of larger truck and pump-system requirements that can get farmers into high-maintenance scenarios. Transportation licensing issues in some states are also an issue. “The liability issues are getting out of hand,” he says.
“Unless you’re going to be involved with feed lots, the way to go is vertical mixers,” says Zach Stammen, a nutritionist in Ohio. “Auger mixers work fine, but there may be no long hay for them to work. They don’t have the chopping ability. If you put a round bale in most horizontal mixers, it messes up everything pretty quickly.
“Livestock farmers don’t use as much hay. The starch content is higher and they need less fiber because the animal is terminal.”
A Growing Market
Most manufacturers are positive about the growth prospects for feed mixer sales, although recent low milk prices have make it difficult for dairy farmers to purchase new equipment.
But several manufacturers and dealers also say the retail field for feed mixers is getting very competitive, with more than a dozen companies in North America making and selling them and many others based overseas who would like to enter this market.
Since adding feed mixers to its lineup about a decade ago, North Star Hardware and Implement has sold 53 Jay Lor mixers. The dealership got into the feed mixer business, Dues says, as nutritionists began to push the TMR concept and tumbler mixers fell out of favor with producers.
Although North Star’s primary market is dairy farmers, Dues says the advent of ethanol plants and availability of distiller’s grains has sparked more interest for TMR mixers in the beef market, and the high price of feed corn also pushed interest in alternative feeds — which are ideal for TMRs that are utilized properly.
Livestock herds and dairies are getting larger and bigger producers don’t have as much use for smaller auger mixers, Dues adds.
But choosing the brand of mixer the dealership would carry was a major decision. “We went to different farm shows, looked at the different mixers and we researched the companies. We wanted to be with a company that was going to be there. And we wanted something that wasn’t going to give us a lot of headaches,” Dues says.
Dairyland Supply has become the largest seller of Penta mixers in central Minnesota, says Meyer, who’s been at the dealership 21 years. The dealership also sells Kuhn-Knight, Roto-Mix, Schuler, Oswald and LuckNow mixers. But the Penta line has been the choice by most customers for a vertical mixer, and producers in the cattle industry who don’t need a vertical can choose Roto-Mix or Kuhn-Knight equipment.
Dairyland’s mixer business has been growing for the past several years, with units being sold in neighboring states and even overseas. The dealership sells 70-100 mixers a year, with about half of them being new. There’s potential to sell new mixers and a lively market for used mixers as well.
“With the world of electronic advertising and the Internet, your trade area grows tremendously,” Meyer says. “It’s important to have common parts. With the freight capabilities we have today, most of the parts can be shipped and customers will have it the next morning.”
Meyer acknowledges that the retail field for TMR mixers is getting very competitive, and it wouldn’t surprise him if there was some type of shakeout or consolidation among mixer manufacturers in the future. “TMRs are like snowmobiles in the 1970s, when everybody was trying to build one or put their sticker on one,” he says.
Selling Mixers is an Art
To sell feed mixers effectively, sales people must have an intimate knowledge of the equipment they’re promoting and take a hands-on approach to working with customers, say dealers interviewed by Farm Equipment.
They must also understand that farmers, especially younger ones, are catching on to the sorting issues with animals. This means dealerships must be prepared to answer questions about the machine’s mixing capabilities.
Jay Dykstra, salesman at Cliff’s Inc. in Friesland, Wis., says the size of a producer’s operation will be a major key in picking a feed mixer. Other factors in a customer’s selection are the foodstuffs a producer is giving their animals and the number of batches they want to mix each day. Cliff’s primarily handles Roto-Mix, Patz, Valmetal and Oswalt mixers at its Friesland location, and Trioliet mixers at its Ripon, Wis., store.
“Some producers are more content with mixing more batches each day and will buy a smaller mixer. Those who don’t want to mix as many will buy a bigger one,” Dykstra says. “Fuel consumption and time considerations also go into that decision.”
Dealers seem to agree on this point — you can’t be satisfied with just having mixers on the lot. “You’re not just selling a piece of iron,” Dues says.
“You’ve got to walk the customer’s feed lot, know what he wants to feed and what commodities he’s feeding. You need to know how to feed cattle yourself before you can tell customers how to feed their cattle. And you’ve got to find a way to make that mixer fit for what they’re trying to do.”
Sometimes a little humility doesn’t hurt, Dues adds. Over time, he’s learned to walk away from deals when it became clear the mixer he was selling wouldn’t perform the way the producer wanted.
“In some instances, someone should just have a bale chopper instead of a mixer. You have to know what they expect and how to make the machine perform that way. Mostly, you need to know that it’s going to make them money.” Dykstra agrees. “The best mixer for a customer may not be what’s on the lot.”
Another consideration is the farmer’s budget, which is not an easy subject to address with the price of some new mixers reaching well over $25,000. Salespeople must help customers figure out what the payback will be.
“If they’ve never had a feed mixer and they’re going into it for the first time, it’s pretty simple to put it on paper,” Meyer says. “And if they’re replacing the mixer, they may already know what they’re looking for, and what to look at from warranty issues to the thickness of steel to how well the mixer’s built.
“Many dealers offer no parts or service. They’re just pricing mixers and not really selling them.”
Demonstrations are Key
It’s nothing new for dealerships to demonstrate equipment for interested customers to nail down a sale. But with feed mixers, it’s a highly personal event because the machine will see everyday use and become integral to a dairy or beef producer’s operation.
“Demo, demo, demo,” says Cliff Wolfe, store manager for Delta Implement Co. in Montrose, Colo. The longtime carrier of Haybuster products started selling vertical mixers several years ago while many customers were still grinding hay and using “auger boxes and old chuck wagons” to prepare rations for cattle.
Delta only carries vertical mixers and Wolfe sells a handful of them each year in the dealership’s small market.
Wolfe says customers watching demonstrations of vertical mixers are usually impressed with the flexibility the machines offer in terms of feed and the quality of the feed.
“Until people can touch and see how they react, they won’t make a decision. When you only tell them the cost of the machinery, they can only see that,” Wolfe advises.
“And you have to pick and choose who you’re talking to. You have to know your customer base, and know that you’re not going to bring the machine back,” he says.
Dues says he won’t do demonstrations until the customer has picked a machine that appears to fit their needs and there’s been an agreement on the price. “I’ve got way too many irons in the fire to just do that for everybody and not have something locked in.”
Meyer says he brings the mixer out, sets up the unit with a scale, puts in the battery and does the testing, telling the customer what order they should add foodstuffs as the machine does its work. “I let them use it for 3-4 days, and they can call me 24/7 if they have questions.” From there, word of mouth of a successful sale can be a dealers’ best friend and lead to more sales. “People call in because they said the neighbor has a certain model and it works well for them.”
Relationships Lead to Sales
Dairy and beef producers need more than just mixers to succeed on the farm. Skid steers, tractors, bale choppers and other equipment are necessary. Having mixers on the lot to attract customers also gives dealers a chance to show what else they have to offer, whether it’s wholegoods, parts or service.
“Any of the vertical TMRs are hard on PTOs. I don’t care whose brand it is, they all pull hard. They’re using it 1-3 times a day,” Dues says.
“A lot of times it gets you on a farm with a customer that you would not normally communicate with. They become someone you can stop in and see and have a relationship with. It can generate mower/conditioner sales, baler sales or other sales. At least you get the opportunity to sell.”
“If you build a relationship with a customer, you’ll have them for nearly everything,” Meyer adds.
“Any time you have more stuff on the lot to bring people in,” Wolfe says, “the better off you are.”
Opportunities for Service
Feed mixers might not bring the high volume of service calls compared to other equipment, but they do require regular service to fix augers, bolts, PTO components, bearings, chains, knives and other parts.
Dairies and large farm operations may have much more urgent repair needs than smaller operators who don’t put as many hours on their mixers. “With service, it’s important not only to be able to fix the brands you’re selling, but have parts on hand,” Meyer says. “And you need to have scales and other components on hand, too. And you must have qualified people to talk them through a problem.
“You must be willing to carry a cell phone 24/7, because they have to feed animals 24/7,” Meyer adds. “With the size of the dairies here, the farmers can’t tolerate a lot of downtime. Back in the shop, you have to be able to fix any color of mixer.”
Dues says his dealership doesn’t dedicate mobile service for mixers because it’s cheaper for customers to bring them to the shop. Two dealers told Farm Equipment that many customers won’t let service technicians touch their mixer until they’re broken, and they’re not good about booking maintenance in advance.
“I would love to get customers to bring their mixer in at least once a year, if not every other year, so we could pull the screws out, clean underneath them and make sure everything is mechanically sound,” Dues says.
“Otherwise, the mixers get care when they break, and it’s often on a Saturday night or Sunday morning. Service is very important to the customer, though it doesn’t add a lot to the bottom line. But in the winter it keeps us busy.”
Many dealerships offer loaners to customers, and some mixer customers get priority when it comes to repairs. Dues says that’s crucial. “Most aren’t going to wait around for service. If their mixer is broken, no money is coming in.”
“I credit our success in the mixer world to the service end of it,” Meyer adds. “People know if we sold them a machine, we will take care of them. We fix it and they can move on.”
Some Sage Advice
If a dealership decides to start selling feed mixers, it’s essential to choose a manufacturer wisely because they will be tied to the manufacturer’s warranties, workmanship and reputation with customers.
Wolfe says inventory levels must be watched closely. “Be specific on what you’re putting on the lot. That will depend on the area you’re in, and what you know about your customer base. Watch stocking levels,” he says.
Other dealers note that it could take a few years for a salesperson to understand the mixer market and acquire crucial knowledge about the products they’re selling or their competition is selling.
“You’re talking about selling them a piece of equipment that will be used every day of the week,” Dues says. “It’s going to get used, so you need to get to know the customer and build confidence with them that you will be there for them. They must believe that your equipment will handle anything that they throw at it.”
- Get to know your local nutritionists. They often figure prominently in customers’ buying decisions.
- Visit your customers’ dairy farms and feedlots. Get to know their feeding systems and equipment needs.
- Word of mouth often leads to mixer sales. Make sure your mixer line will back up your promises.
Tatoma Horizontal mixers mix 100% and easily process a full large round bale of hay. They also offer a top of the line vertical mixer. My experience tells me this mixer line will back up any promise made by its dealers.