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Alabama Farmer Starts Wood Shavings Business: Central Shavings Turns to Salsco for Custom-built 60-inch Mill

Alabama Farmer Starts Wood Shavings Business – Central Shavings Chooses Salsco Shaving Mill

By April Terreri
Date Posted: 9/1/2009

CULLMAN, Alabama – Josh Kent, 38, is a long-time farmer, having raised beef cattle and poultry with his parents for major meat and poultry processors and marketers, including Tyson Foods. He has also been involved in commercial construction, developing landfills for the state and for several surrounding county waste management companies. Today, Josh is still farming with his wife and other family members, but he recently added a new title to his name: that of wood shavings producer. Just this past March, he ordered his first Salsco wood shavings mill when he began operating his brand-new company, Central Shavings, LLC – and he is already contemplating ordering a second one.

             Cheshire Connecticut headquartered Salsco manufactures equipment for a wide range of industries, including construction, agriculture, lawn care, and tree care. The 30-year-old company offers product lines including shaving mills, chippers, pavers, vacuums, and blowers.

            Before he ordered his Salsco shavings mill, Josh had been hauling shavings from local lumber mills to use for bedding in his poultry houses. “It soon began to become harder and harder to find shavings because all the lumber mills around here have shut down because of the downturn in residential building,” Josh explained. “So I decided to make my own shavings for my two poultry houses.” Each of his chicken houses is 40-feet wide by 500-feet long, and each is home to about 20,000 chickens.

             The company employs about three crews of men who clean out used shavings from area poultry farmers. “We use that chicken litter to fertilize our pastures because it is very high in nitrogen,” he explained.

            Once he decided to produce his own shavings, he realized there was also a huge demand for these shavings from other  poultry farmers in the surrounding counties. “Cullman County is the largest poultry-producing county in the Southeast, and the county has more chicken houses than other counties in the region,” said Josh. The Town of Cullman is a  rural county located about 50 miles north of Birmingham.

            Foreseeing a potential healthy business enterprise developing on the horizon, Josh decided to go for the larger Salsco shavings mill because of the steady demand he anticipated. “I wanted to be able to produce as many shavings as I possibly could,” he said. He looked at several manufacturers before  deciding to get more information from Salsco, located in Cheshire, Connecticut. “I went to look at some of the Salsco mills in operation, but they were the smaller ones. Then Johanna Guimond at Salsco told me about a 60-inch mill they sold in Florida. So I made the trip down there and met with the Salsco people and with the owner of the 60-inch Salsco shavings mill.”

            Josh liked what he saw in Florida so much so that he placed an order right then and there with Salsco for a 60-inch shavings mill. “I ordered it in March and it took Salsco about six weeks to build it – it’s all custom-built,” Josh reported. “Most all the mills they sell are 40-inches and less, so when someone like me comes along wanting a 60-inch mill, they pretty much have to custom build it because their production lines are set up to produce the smaller mills.”

            Josh reported weekly production is already at two tractor-trailer loads of shavings every day. He said, “And this is our slow time of year. We stay about two tractor-trailer loads ahead in our scheduling so we are basically hauling everything we make as soon as we produce it.”

            According to Josh, one of the best features of his new mill is the Salsco sizing machine he bought along with the mill. “I like the sizing machine a lot because with the smaller mills, you would have to notch the blades to make the smaller shavings,” explained Josh. “But with my sizing machine, I can make two different products – a large shaving and a smaller one.”

            By turning off the sizing machine, Josh can produce larger shavings about four to six inches long. Then, just by turning on the sizing machine, he can produce one-inch- to one-and-a-half-inch-long shavings. “When I turn off the sizing machine, the larger shavings just fall through onto a Salsco conveyor that takes the shavings into the storage building.”

            As for thickness, he can make the shavings paper-thin, just by adjusting the blades to the desired setting. He said the company tries to make them as thin as possible so the shavings dry faster. They are green and have some moisture content, but they dry fast because Josh and his employees spread the shavings thinly over the floors of the poultry houses – about one-inch thick.

            The larger shavings are used by poultry farmers who keep their chickens for a year. “They like the bigger shavings because they absorb more of the chicken waste and the chickens won’t eat the larger shavings,” Josh explained. Pullet houses keep chickens for only 45 days, so they prefer the smaller shavings.

            Josh’s farm is located on 450 acres and he leases another 1,500 acres for his 350 head of beef cattle. “We used to have 600 head last year, but we had to sell down because of the bad drought, but now we are in the process of buying some back again,” he said. He also cuts hay for his own use and he sells it to other farmers in the region.

The Milling Story

            When Josh and his employees finish constructing the 30-foot by 60-foot building for the Salsco shavings mill, he will have two major facilities on the property: the mill house and a 60-foot by 120-foot shavings storage building that his conveyors feed into.

            Central Shavings uses just about any kind of pine that is available from his local loggers, who drop off logs that are about 17-feet long. “I like them cut to this length so we don’t have so much handling involved and we don’t produce any waste,” Josh said.  
            Diameters can range from six inches and up. Logs are placed near the conveyor feed on wooden ties so they don’t pick up any dirt, which can dull the Salsco mill’s blades. “I like the logs to be 17-feet long because the box on my mill is 60-inches wide x 9’long. So all my guys have to do is cut the logs in two and that is the only labor involved.”

            A 924G Caterpillar loader picks up the logs and moves them to a custom-built log deck he had Mark Johnson from Winston Equipment help him build. “Winston Equipment is a log company a county over from here in Nauvoo,” Josh explained. “Mark came out here and measured everything for me, and we both built the log deck to feed into my mill.”

            The chain-driven log deck pulls the logs up to a catwalk area where an operator stands ready. “ The operator rolls the logs into the box, which reciprocates over a 60” wide cutting head to produce shavings. The shavings then drop onto a Salsco conveyor, which carries them to a Salsco shaving sizer. The sizer allows the operator to change the size of the shavings with just the turn of a dial. They then drop onto another conveyor, which transports the shavings out to a pile, where a loader moves them to their final location.

            Josh built a loading dock joining the building so his crew can load either into one of his two Warren spreader trucks or onto a Peerless walking-floor trailer. The company produces predominantly smaller-sized shavings. The price of the shavings includes free delivery within a 40-mile radius of the company – any distance over that is charged by the mile. Josh uses KA Fabrication to custom-build accessories such as buckets and forks to fit the company loaders when handling some of the smaller materials.

            Depending on the diameter of the logs, Central Shavings loads up to 15 logs into the Salsco mill at a time. “We don’t ever let the box get low because the more weight you have in the box, the better it helps to shave the logs so we keep it pretty much loaded all the time,” Josh reported. When blades need to be sharpened or changed, the crew allows the box to run dry, which takes about 45 minutes.

            The 60-inch-wide mill comes equipped with a nine-foot-long box that is 30 inches deep, which allows less loading time and more production.  The all steel, continuous welded box is manufactured with gussets and reinforced steel plates, which allows it to tolerate the wood industry. The open box design can be filled while the mill is operating.

            Hardened razor-backed cutter knives provide  hours of operation in between sharpenings, depending on the materials being shaved. The cutter shaft is specially designed to cut in both directions and remove shavings throughout the cut. The mill is fully automatic, with sensors to prevent over-travel of the wood box. All chains are #80 heavy-duty roller chains and the wood box is equipped with quad-drive chains. There are two options for the mill’s engine: a 200-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engine package, or an electric 200-horsepower engine on the cutter shaft with a 20-horsepower engine to power the hydraulics. Josh chose the diesel engine package.

            Every two days, Josh has the mill’s blades sharpened by a local company – Shaneyfelt Company. He added that he is in the process of building his own sharpening room.

Preparing for Growth

            Central Shavings advertises in local newspapers in the counties surrounding Cullman County. Josh noted he also advertises in some of the major national poultry magazines. But Josh reports business is really brisk, even without advertising. Once other poultry farmers in the region got wind of Josh’s shavings operation, they became eager and willing customers.

            “The business has been very good so far,” he said. “I started this mill process mainly to take care of myself and the surrounding farms here. But it got to be a bit more than what I had anticipated, as everyone began talking about my operation here. We are very busy now, even though it’s still the slow season.”

            When spring rolls around – the company’s anticipated busiest time of the year – Josh plans to operate a second shift with another new Salsco mill so the two mills will run 16 hours a day, producing much-needed shavings for the region’s numerous poultry houses.

            Two employees who work on the Kent family farm also run the Salsco shavings mill, which operates eight hours a day, five days a week. Josh’s wife, Monica, is in charge of operating the company office. Josh’s two boys,  ages 11 and 13, are still too young to show an interest in the company.

            With all of his responsibilities, where does Josh find the time to do everything required of him? He operates the farm, the shavings production business, and the haying operation. How does he do it all? “Well, that’s where things get a little bit tricky,” he chuckled. “We always try to keep everything caught up at all times. We aim to get all of the orders requiring us to haul shavings to our customers done early in the morning to the point where we can focus on working on our farm chores in the afternoon.”

            Josh looks forward to the challenge of expanding his shavings production come this spring with the installation of yet another Salsco mill.

            “We already have all the support equipment we need so we could run two shaving mills as easily as we can run one mill,” Josh said. “There is certainly the market for what we can produce.”

            Josh added that he notices other people putting in similar shaving mills within a radius of about 20 miles of his operation. But since most of his customers are poultry farmers from whom he collects chicken litter to fertilize his fields, he feels his business base is safe from erosion because of the reciprocal nature of the relationships he has established. He buys their litter, and the farmers buy the wood shavings they need for their poultry houses from Central Shavings.




Becoming Self-Sufficient


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