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Pennsylvania Man Launches Shaving Business: Salsco Wood Shaving Mill, Pine Logs Produce Material for Dairies, Stables, Poultry Growers
Myers Premium Wood Shavings – Pennsylvania Man Launches Shaving Business with Salsco Mill
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 4/1/2009
PORT MATILDA, Pennsylvania – Suzanne Myers has had a life-long love affair with horses. It started when her parents got her a pony when she was a little girl. Now a researcher at Penn State University, Suzanne also boards and trains horses professionally.
That’s how her husband, Glenn, got into the forest products business.
The couple, who live with their 8-year-old daughter, Brooke, on a farm in Port Matilda, about 15 miles west of State College, Pa., purchased sawdust or shavings for their stables for years. However, in recent years their suppliers began drying up, particularly as the furniture industry began withering and lumber production slowed.
They decided to get into the business of producing and selling wood shavings for livestock bedding because they could not obtain enough for the stable operations. “We had really struggled for a few years to get bedding,” said Glenn.
Today, with a Salsco Inc. wood shaving mill, the farm produces all the shavings it needs and enough to support a small business – Myers Premium Wood Shavings LLC — supplying other farms and stables with wood shavings. The Salsco mill is used to reduce pine logs to shavings.
Glenn was attending the New York Farm Show in 2008 when he saw a shaving mill being exhibited. “That kind of sparked my interest,” he said. “I got to thinking about things. I had a neighbor with me who has a dairy farm, and he was having problems finding enough bedding material. More or less, that’s where the whole process started last July. I decided to take the plunge and buy a machine, we put a few buildings up, bought a delivery truck, and here we are today.”
There was more to it than that, of course. Glenn began researching on the Internet. He found about four or five companies that manufacture wood shaving mills. He called the manufacturers, asked for customer references, then called their customers to learn more. He obtained demonstration videos from the manufacturers. He decided to invest in a machine from Salsco even though he had not seen it in person. After his decision, Glenn took some logs to another trade show where Salsco was exhibiting, met a company representative, and watched the machine shave the logs he brought.
Connecticut-based Salsco has been manufacturing machinery since 1979. It makes equipment for such industries as construction, agriculture, tree care, lawn care and golf courses. The company’s product line includes shaving mills, chippers, vacuums and blowers, pavers, and much more.
The company’s 40-inch shaving mill, which Glenn purchased, can produce up to 28 cubic yards of shavings per hour, according to Salsco. It shaves material in both directions and produces uniform, thin, curly wood shavings. Cutting thickness is adjustable.
In choosing Salsco, one of the most important factors was that the company’s base model essentially was a diesel-powered machine. Other manufacturers offered diesel as an option. Glenn’s farm did not have 3-phase electric power, and it would have been costly to have the service put in because of the farm’s remote location.
Glenn, 42, is manager of the Penn State University meat laboratory and teaches classes in meat cutting. The university raises beef cattle, swine and sheep and operates its own slaughter house and retail butcher store.
Glenn grew up in western Pennsylvania and majored in animal science at Penn State, where he graduated in 1990. As a student he had worked in the meat lab. After graduating he went to work for a meat packing company four years, then was hired by Penn State to manage the lab, which he has done for 15 years.
When Glenn accepted the position at Penn State, Suzanne, his girlfriend at the time, was working on her PhD at the university. Now she is a pathobiologist and works as a research associate in the university’s animal diagnostic laboratory.
“My wife is the horse nut,” said Glenn, “and my daughter is right alongside her at all times. When Suzanne comes home from her job at the university and later starts working with the horses under her care, “those two are up there every night until about 10 p.m.,” said Glenn.
“She has been into horses since she was a kid,” said Glenn. Her family got her a pony when she was about four or five.
Suzanne has been training horses about 13 years. Her business, Myers Stables, ‘starts’ colts and trains horses. She takes a young horse that has never been saddled, and breaks it and trains it to be rideable. (Her business Web site is www.nextlevelhorsemanship.) She also travels to put on clinics in horse training and horsemanship. Suzanne’s stable contains about 25 horses; the Myers family owns eight, Suzanne trains four to six at any given time, and some horses are boarded for other owners.
Suzanne won the Mustang Challenge in 2008 in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a competition involving some 50-plus horse trainers. They went to St. Louis to pick up a wild mustang that had never been touched by a human, and each trainer had 100 days to work with the animal, then report to the two-day Horse Expo in Wisconsin to show the mustang.
Before they purchased the Salsco mill, the Myerses bought sawdust or shavings, whichever was available. They bought bulk quantities from sawmills and other forest products businesses.
Purchasing it by the bag was out of the question, explained Glenn. One stall requires about five bags of material per week. “It gets expensive in a hurry,” he said.
Another option Glenn considered was purchasing a chipper or grinder, but those machines make a coarser product with more splinters. “Dairy and horse people don’t like splinters,” he said.
Businesses that use residual wood material or by-products from sawmills and other forest products businesses can be somewhat sporadic, noted Glenn. They are going to be affected by the ups and downs and market conditions that impact the mills that supply them with material like sawdust or shavings.
With the housing industry down, lumber companies have cut production; they are making less lumber and producing less residuals.
“There’s not a lot of that product (wood residuals) on the market like there was a few years ago,” noted Glenn. “We’re starting to see more of it come on the market now than there was in December or January.”
There is only one ‘rule’ regarding wood material for bedding horses, according to Glenn: no walnut. Walnut contains a toxin that can cause a vascular disease that affects a horse’s hooves. The toxin is absorbed directly through the pad in the hoof and causes irreversible damage.
“That is one plus for the shaving mill,” said Glenn. “You know what you put in it. There’s no guessing.” Otherwise, it makes no difference, hardwood or softwood, although softwood material is obviously easier on the mill.
The Salsco machine is powered by a Caterpillar 127 hp turbo-charged diesel engine. The infeed box of the mill is 40 inches wide and can take logs up to 9 feet long. Glenn’s company normally uses pine logs up to 18-20 inches in diameter and bucks them to 8 feet.
The mill has five rows of knives, two 20-inch knives in each row. Every 10 hours of use, Glenn pulls out one row and sharpens them on an ordinary surface grinder.
A few knives have broken when they hit metal in a log. “We got a bad load of wood from someone,” Glenn recalled. “It seemed like every other day we broke a knife or two.” Otherwise, the knives will wear for about a year.
Logs arriving at the farm are 20-25 feet long. They are delivered and offloaded by self-loading trailers and stacked in a wood yard. The logs are bucked with a chainsaw to 8 feet to fit easily into the infeed box. A skidsteer equipped with forklift tines is used to pick up logs and load them into the mill. The box on the mill will usually be loaded with five or six 12-15-inch logs at a time, and reloaded about 10 minutes later. The box moves the logs back and forth over the shaving knives.
“We keep the box at least half-way full at all times,” said Glenn. At night, they run the mill until the box is empty and then sharpen the knives.
The building housing the mill is a stick-framed structure, 32x32. Glenn also built a 42x80 superstructure with 25-foot-high ceilings for storing shavings and his trucks.
The shavings exit the mill to a Salsco conveyor. They can be routed along a series of Salsco conveyors either to be top-loaded directly into one of the trucks or stockpiled in the superstructure. In the process they go through a Salsco shaving sizer to break the shavings up into smaller pieces.
Glenn bought two tracts of pine timber and contracts with a logger to cut the trees and deliver them to the log yard. “You don’t save a lot of money doing it that way,” said Glenn, “but at least you have a guaranteed supply.” His log costs currently are averaging about $32-35 per ton, which includes the price of the timber, logging costs and hauling.”
Glenn also buys some logs, any type of pine. “I’m not real crazy about hemlock,” he said. “It’s a little harder.” The logs are not debarked before being loaded into the mill.
The shavings business operates 12 hours a day with one full-time employee, Joe Ross. “He starts work by 7 a.m., makes a load of shavings and puts them on the truck…He’s on the road by 10 a.m. to deliver them…He comes back, makes another load and does the same thing.” The business also employs a few part-time workers as needed at night. Suzanne does the bookkeeping.
“He’s the heart and sole of the operation,” said Glenn, referring to Joe. “He has a CDL license, he can fix things — he has a good head on his shoulders. Those guys are kind of hard to come by.”
Glenn has a walking-floor trailer and a 40-yard dump truck for deliveries; most deliveries are made with the walking-floor trailer.
Most customers are dairy farmers or horse farmers. Glenn is beginning to sell to poultry farmers, too. The company ships shavings to farms in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Delaware.
When Glenn decided to launch the business, he drew up a business plan and went to a bank for financing. He got help from the Penn State Small Business Development Center with planning and securing financing. “They were great,” said Glenn. He has about $250,000 invested in the business, he estimated, including the buildings, truck, skidsteer and all his other start-up costs.
Glenn markets his business with a Web site and advertises in local newspapers in Pennsylvania. Some farms have farming operations in other states, too. “Word gets around,” he said. The Web site (www.myersshavings.com), which was produced by a friend as a gift, gives the business good exposure, he indicated.
One of the biggest challenges to marketing and selling shavings has been the moisture content of green wood, which ranges from 35-45%. “That is the biggest challenge to selling the product right there,” acknowledged Glenn. “People buy it for animal bedding, and animal bedding needs to be absorbent.”
Shavings made of kiln-dried wood have a much lower moisture content, he noted, about 12-15%, which makes a significant difference in absorbency.
In fact, drying the material to increase absorbency is the biggest challenge Glenn faces. He could invest in equipment to dry the shavings, but a drying system would cost $300-400,000, he estimated. He wants a more economical option.
Already, competitors are surfacing. Three people are putting in shaving mills within a 60-70-mile radius of his farm, said Glenn.
“The key to surviving is being able to differentiate your product from someone else,” he said. “I think the only way to do it is to dry it.”
Salsco Makes Solid, Durable Shaving Mills, Other Machines
Connecticut-based Salsco Inc. has been manufacturing machinery since 1979. It makes equipment for such industries as construction, agriculture, tree care, lawn care and golf courses.
Salsco equipment is made of solid, durable construction with high quality components and standard features, and the company provides strong service and support.
The company’s product line includes shaving mills, chippers, vacuums and blowers, pavers, and much more.
The company’s 40-inch shaving mill can produce up to 28 cubic yards of shavings per hour, according to Salsco. It shaves material in both directions and produces uniform, thin, curly wood shavings. Cutting thickness is adjustable.
The mill is available as a stationery unit with diesel or electric power. The mill’s hydraulic system is powered by a 12.1 CID piston-type, variable speed hydraulic motor with a 26-gallon hydraulic tank.
For more information, call Salsco at (800) 872-5726 or visit www.salsco.com.
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