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Georgia Brothers Specialize in Chipping

Shepherd Brothers Logging Adds Bandit Model 2400 Whole Tree Chipper

By Pete Hildebrandt
Date Posted: 10/1/2006

IRWINTON, Georgia — Some times sticking with a business has something to do with keeping a tradition or a way of life alive and being tenacious and wily enough to weather the tough times as well as the good years.

      The Shepherd family has been in the logging and chipping business since the mid-1960s. According to Robby Shepherd, co-partner with his brother, Jay, of Shepherd Brothers Logging, the business originally started with their father, Bill, and their uncle, Frank, at the helm.

      “Back then, operations consisted of loading the wood on a little short wood truck,” said Robby. “They’d drag the wood out on what was called a ‘go-getter.’ It wasn’t even a skidder really — just basically a truck frame with a winch on top of it.

      “After that phase of running the operation, we went to skidders, loaders, longer trucks, and in about 1976 we got into chipping. At that point we moved in the direction of making chipping the mainstay of our operations.”

      Chipping is done with portable equipment on-site. Once the job is finished, they load the equipment onto transport trailers and move to the next work location.

      “My dad bought my uncle out in 1994, and Jay and I bought my dad out in 2001,” said Robby. Shepherd Brothers Logging now has about 45 employees. They have four crews: one long wood crew, two clean chipping crews, and one fuel chipping crew.

      The company is based mainly near the center of Georgia, between Macon and Dublin. The Shepherds try to keep their chipping operations within 60 miles of the mills they serve although some jobs take them up to 120 miles from their home in Irwinton.

      Jay’s duties include buying timber and timberland. “When it comes down to it, we both do a lot of the same stuff,” said Robby. “That mainly comes down to each of us looking after the different crews in our organization. Outside of timbering operations, we also buy land. But all in all we just share our responsibilities without having any set policies on who does what in our operations. Both of us do similar things for the different groups we’re working with.”

      For felling and skidding, the company relies heavily on Tigercat heavy equipment. Shepherd Brothers Logging is equipped with Tigercat 720 feller-bunchers, Tigercat 620 skidders and Tigercat loaders. Chipping is done with a Morbark machine and a Bandit 2400 whole tree chipper.

      The Bandit model 2400 chipper has been in operation for several months. It is designed for chipping trees up to 24 inches in diameter.

      “The Bandit does a good job,” said Robby. “Our crew that chips fuel wood uses it. We basically bought it because it was set up to do exactly what we needed for that operation.”

      The Bandit model 2400 is used to chip both hardwood and softwood. “When you use it for fuel, you pretty much just chip everything,” said Robby. The chips are sold for boiler fuel to a pulp mill in Georgia.

      Bandit Industries Inc., based in Michigan, offers a wide range of chippers and grinders, including drum chippers and various types of stump grinders.

      The Bandit model 2400 whole tree shipper has a five wheel hydraulic feed system similar to the one that is standard on the model 1900, although the 2400 has more powerful feed wheels. This unit is equipped with a 220-degree hydraulic swivel discharge spout so chips can be aimed in virtually any direction. The operator can control all machine functions with joystick controls in the roomy cab. By using a powerful backhoe-style loader with continuous rotation grapple, Bandit Industries has found a way to make the job of feeding material into the chipper an even smoother operation for high volume chipping operations like those conducted by the Shepherds.

      Jim Muterspaugh, a Bandit sales representative, has worked with the Shepherds for several years. “Bill Shepherd and Frank Shepherd bought some of the first models of whole tree chippers,” he recalled. “Actually, they ran five whole tree chippers back in the 1970s. They’re big producers in the state, doing pulpwood and logs as well over the years.

      “We’ve all been good friends for a number of years, and this has just continued with Robby and his brother, Jay. They’re real good people. When I took the machine to them and demonstrated it, they really liked the machine. It’s designed primarily for fuel wood operations — exactly what they’re doing.”

      The Bandit model 2400 purchased by the Shepherds is powered by a Caterpillar 3412 engine rated at 760 hp. The infeed opening of the chipper is 24x29. The machine, with an aid-conditioned cab, can be towed with its pintle hitch.

      The Bandit model 2400 whole tree chipper is being used to process about 12-13 truck-loads of chips (25 to 32 tons) per day and perform clean-up operations. The machine is capable of producing 30 loads of chips per day, depending on material, according to Bandit.

      “When I sold them their machine they were working primarily in logging operations involving hardwood tops,” Jim noted. “You don’t get as much volume from that, but they were actually recovering quite a bit and practicing good forest management to get that material cleared out of the woods.”

      Hog fuel prices have risen recently, according to Jim. They had been down in his region, where he is based in Ocala, Fla., making it difficult for contractors to make a profit when faced with escalating diesel fuel prices. “But now there seems to be more demand,” said Jim. “Talking to various factories in places like Maine, where they depend strongly on fuel for their boilers, the price for wood fuel has risen considerably within the past year.” Some mills have been paying fuel surcharges above their quoted prices, which helps the loggers somewhat, Jim said.

      The Shepherds also produce bio-diesel fuel from cooking oil. They collect and process waste cooking oil from restaurants into bio-diesel fuel, producing a few thousand gallons per week. The brothers are members of a bio-diesel fuel trade association.

      Engines of Bandit chippers have electronic systems for improved fuel economy, Jim noted.

      The Shepherds have a couple of crews that work in southwest Georgia and use the Bandit model 2400 whole tree chipper. The other crews work in the vicinities of Macon, Dublin and Willacoochee. A crew may stay three to four weeks on a job site, sometimes as long as 10-12 weeks, depending on the size of the job.

      “Chipping is not an operation where you can measure how much you can do in an hour with any particular success,” explained Robby. “It’s a combination of cutting the wood, dragging it to the landing…and chipping it.”

      Generally, it is more efficient to make chips on-site as opposed to hauling out long wood and chipping at a remote location, he noted. There are still some limiting factors, however. For example, you need a sufficient number of tractors and van trailers to keep production going. Coordinating the trucking can be a problem at times. A trailer can be filled with chips in about 40 minutes although some times it takes longer.

      “If we’re not getting the wood there fast enough or are not getting the trucks out fast enough, there can be delays and then we may have to take a little longer,” said Robby. “These are all things to factor into the speed of our operations.”

      Robby gets right to the point when asked about business. “Right now we’re just trying to survive in these trying times,” he said. “There are a lot of folks out there that haven’t survived as long as we have. We’ve found we just have to stay as flexible as possible to try to make a way to survive.”

      Some of the toughest economic challenges the business has faced lately are high fuel prices and inflation. “Fuel costs have gone up, as has the cost of borrowing money,” said Robby. “Interest rates have increased for a few years. Providing health care insurance for employees has been nearly impossible in addition to other regular business stresses.”

      As far as having their children go into business with them, the brothers will wait until their children have gone through college to make any decisions. “We’re going to have them get an education first,” said Robby. “We’ll make any decisions about the logging or chipping business after our children get a higher education. For the time being that’s how things stand.”

      “We’re outdoors people, but we are also church people. We spend a lot of time with our church community,” said Robby. “I think that any logger could live by the words that we try to live by, from Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.’ ”

      The Shepherds plan to make the most of things and survive, in any case. “We just spent $350,000 on our new Model 2400 Bandit Chipper, so we’re planning on using it,” said Robby. “We’ll be here for awhile. How our business changes over the next few years — we haven’t a clue. One day we hope to enjoy our retirement, but as far as making plans, we have to look at things on a day-to-day basis in trying to come up with what route to pursue.”


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