While Italian premixer, Farmer S.p.A, has a rich history that dates back all the way to the 1970s, the last 10 years for the company have been truly transformational thanks to continued investment in research and development.
As the company’s CEO, Marco Grandi explained to Feedinfo, Farmer’s decision to invest in this area over the last decade has ushered in a sort of metamorphosis at the company, with the highlight of this period of change being the development of its flagship Steecker granulation technology. This has allowed the company to develop a range of additives and specialty products with increased particle sizes for improved flowability and easier measuring in feed mills compared to powdered solutions.
In this Industry Perspectives, Mr Grandi and the company’s Sales Manager, Lorenzo Bosio talk us through the development of Steecker and what makes the technology so unique. We also zoom in on its application in the company’s Steecker Pre-Exist granular anionic mineral feed for dairy cows and discover how this has resulted in a solution that the company believes is not only better for feed mills but also very effective in milk fever mitigation and in ensuring adequate calcium availability in freshening dairy cows.
[Feedinfo] Talk us through the shift that happened at Farmer S.p.A over the past 10 years. How did this lead to your Steecker technology?
[Marco Grandi] For the last decade Farmer S.p.A has been actively changing its identity to make it more compatible with our future aims of being an innovator of new technologies and diversifying our product offering to bring new solutions to market.
Mixing is no longer our core business.
To achieve this transformation, we actively decided to learn from different industrial sectors, such as food and pharmaceuticals, and see how we could apply these lessons to our market.
It is through this process that we began to understand the advantages for our customers of using granules over powders and that this could become a differentiating factor for us in the world of premixes and specialty products.
What followed was a long design study which looked at how to transfer this technology to our sector while ensuring it was economically viable for our customers. This led to the birth of our R&D division in 2013, which, together with the University of Salerno Department of Industrial Engineering/DIIN in Fisciano, Italy, developed a prototype plant that allowed for granulation without the use of diluent carriers. What this meant for users was easier product storage, and in the case of hygroscopic ingredients, better handling, the absence of dust, and smoothness.
But that’s not all!
Through our research we have also been able to identify and determine the dissolution time of the granules and, therefore, manipulate the release of the nutrients in the digestive tract.
All of this has led to our Steecker line of products, which promises intrinsic functionality of components along with ease and safety of use.
[Feedinfo] On your website you mention that this technology makes for “products with higher quality standards than other industry products”. Please talk us through why you believe this to be the case.
[Marco Grandi] For us, going the granulation route with our Steecker technology already results in a higher quality product than if that same product was made of powder. And that’s for a number of reasons:
1) granules behave like a liquid, meaning they flow more easily than powders which behave like solids
2) we combine the different raw materials in our granules using a specific mono-gravity technique, which limits separation. Because each component of a product has a different specific gravity, the risk of separation is high when mixed in powder. Every single Steecker granule is an assembly of all the components into one, which helps limit this separation
3) we can manipulate the granules to have different dissolution times
4) the process can help make highly hygroscopic substances, which are not manageable in powder form, more stable and easier to handle
Our R&D department is equipped with a laboratory system that simulates our production process. Through this we are able to define and set our production process parameters, the concentration of respirable dusts, the size distribution, the density, the Carr index, the Hausner index, and the angle of rest.
[Feedinfo] Let’s look at Steecker’s application in your Steecker Pre-Exist granular anionic mineral feed for dairy cows. How does the technology make for a better functioning product in the mill?
[Lorenzo Bosio] The Steecker technology actually allows for the use of raw materials like anionic salts, including anhydrous magnesium sulphate and calcium chloride, which have intrinsic characteristics that make them difficult to use during the production of feed or premixes. This includes high hygroscopicity, propensity for dust generation, low mixability (precision in dosing), recall of water in products, potential to cause irritation when handled, and low palatability when in high concentrations.
Thanks to Steecker these intrinsic defects of certain raw materials can be mitigated, which allows for the ease of use of our Pre-Exist product in industrial plants, even at high inclusions without causing production defects in feed or premixes. In addition, there are less issues with palatability. The absence of carriers also allows for a product with around 98% active substances.
[Feedinfo] And can you share what customers are saying about Pre-Exist’s application in their operations? Do you have some on-the-ground insight that you can share about their experience with the product?
[Lorenzo Bosio] Yes, of course. We recently had one of our customers – Consorzi Agrari D'Italia (CAI), which provides Italian farmers with certified feed for farm animals (in particular dairy cows, beef cattle, pigs and poultry) – reach out to us with their experience. They’ve been using Steecker Pre-Exist since 2018 because they needed to expand their line of feed for the dry and pre-calving phase of dairy cows with an anionic mineral product.
The company’s Technical Services Manager, Dr. Gianluca Brunelli told us that: “We chose Steecker Pre-Exist initially for its granulated form because it allowed us to eliminate both the poor palatability of anionic mineral feeds and the problem of dustiness in the feed mill, to the considerable satisfaction of the production manager.
“We subsequently tested the product "in the field", inserting it for 4 months in the dry feed of two Mantova companies (one with 600 lactating cows and one with 380) and we monitored post-calving pathologies. The results were great in both trials because we had a reduction in the main postpartum pathologies, with an incidence of ketosis (BHB > 1.3 mmol/l) of only 4.8% and 4.1% respectively, metritis of 3.7% and 4.9%, and abomasal dislocations of just 1.3% and 1.8%.”
We also had Saulius Kontrimavičius, the Animal Product Group Manager at UAB “Baltic Agro” – which specialises in feed mixes, ingredients, vitamin mixes, fertiliser and seeds – tell us that they made the switch from regular anionic salt mixtures to Steecker Pre-Exist several years ago and find the product to have “very stable and good results in the control of hypocalcaemia. And at the same time, we found that we were also able to maintain feed intake in transition cows, which is important in the prevention of ketosis.
“We’ve also heard from farmers that have struggled in the past with hypocalcaemia and started using Steecker Pre-Exist that they continue to rely on the product. And that’s because it’s not only effective but can also be applied directly to the TMR or used in compound feed. The product is also very safe to use, which is very important when employing it on farm.”
[Feedinfo] On the subject of hypocalcaemia, what can you share with us on Steecker Pre-Exist’s efficacy in milk fever mitigation and in ensuring adequate calcium availability in freshening dairy cows? And what about its impact on lactation and post-partum diseases?
[Lorenzo Bosio] Adequate calcium is important for colostrum and milk synthesis, muscle and nerve function, and immunity. The prevention of hypocalcaemia (low concentration of blood calcium) around calving is an important factor to consider when designing transition cow programmes for optimum health after calving, reproduction efficiency, and milk production.
While clinical cases of hypocalcaemia are easy to diagnose and prevent with feeding and management changes, subclinical hypocalcaemia – which according to our estimations might occur in over 50% of dairy cows – does not present with recognisable symptoms and can only be diagnosed with blood samples.
Prevention is the key and the use of anionic salts, along with other management strategies, may help mitigate this metabolic disorder. It is also preferred to formulate the ration with a DCAB (Dietary Cation-Anion Balance) that is negative to increase calcium absorption from the bones and, therefore, in the blood supply.
Steecker Pre-Exist’s granulated form and high anion salt inclusion level, guarantees the best results in both the formulation and production of feed for the dry phase with a high negative DCAB. And thanks to its aggregation technology the granules have a slow-release time which help provide a constant supply of nutrients over time.
The result is that soon after calving the availability of circulating calcium is increased leading to lower incidences of sub-clinical hypocalcaemia. This, in turn, means the dairy cow can reach the peak of her lactation curve faster and increase milk production overall.
In fact, our analysis of the available data shows that:
- Cows 0-30 days after calving have about 1kg more milk than cows not on Steecker Pre-Exist
- Cows with 30-130 GG of lactation have about 2.5kg more milk per day
Of no less importance is the control of after-calving pathologies such as placental retention, metritis, abomasum dislocation and ketosis, with our findings showing an estimated 50-60% drop in these conditions in cows treated with Steecker Pre-Exist compared to those who were not.
[Feedinfo] You are also putting the product forward for use with lactating sows. What proof can you share with us on its efficacy in these animals and supporting them during farrowing and milk production? And, again, what about post-partum challenges, like ketosis?
[Lorenzo Bosio] We have been using Steecker Pre-Exist in the diets of pregnant and lactating sows for many years and I believe that we are one of the few companies proposing this right now.
The modern sow can be considered akin to a very productive dairy cow and indeed we’ve seen similar advantages being obtained with use of Steecker Pre-Exist. For example, during the gestation phase it can help prepare the sows for farrowing, with a reduction in languid farrowing and rapid growth of the lactation curve.
In addition, organic acids in the feed, which are a co-product of the Steecker technology, can help control the urogenital syndrome in sows, a widespread and often sub-clinical pathology.
[Feedinfo] Finally, let’s talk about your Farmer Laboratory, which you have stated is instrumental in the development of new products at the company. What are some of the exciting developments the lab is working on currently? What can we look forward to from Farmer S.p.A in the coming months/years?
[Marco Grandi] We are very proud of our laboratory and the work that we are producing. We want innovation to become part of our DNA and to constantly explore new opportunities for our business and the industry.
Right now, Farmer S.p.A. has two patents for the production of liposomal nano vectors and liposomal nano coated with double-sided polymers. We are developing these technologies at our new R&D centre in the Avellino province and are investigating them for potential application to active molecules, such as essences with a high terpenes content and vitamins like vitamin D3.
The goal of the technology, in the nutritional and nutraceutical field, is controlled and prolonged release to the target organ, minimising losses, reducing any negative side effects, and, above all, increasing the metabolic efficiency of the transported molecule. We have already kicked off some validation tests for certain substances treated with this new technology at research centres that study monogastrics and ruminants and will be sharing our findings when they become available.
Published in association with Farmer S.p.A