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The Smiths Add Another Niche Among Multiple Business Ventures—A New Salsco Shaving Mill

Dennis Smith, owner of D&D Farms of GA LLC and two other businesses, adds a new Salsco shavings mill as another successful venture. Only 6 to 8 months old in this new business he experienced a fire that about destroyed his mill and facility. He’s bounced back with better equipment and more efficiency.

By Maya L. Brewer
Date Posted: 12/1/2009

Tazewell, Georgia—Dennis and Deborah Smith, owners of D&D Farms of GA LLC, do not give up easily and they’re not afraid to try new things. Having experienced a fire that demolished his complete shavings mill facility about 2 ½ months ago, he’s up and running again with a brand new Salsco mill, and he’s even testing a new Salsco shavings dryer. And remarkably, he’s only been in the shavings business a total of six to eight months.

            Sal Rizzo, owner and president of the Connecticut-based Salsco Inc., calls Dennis nearly everyday to check in on the new dryer that his company is designing to increase the absorption rate and improve the drying time for milled shavings. The invention is a combination of a burner and cool air blower that work simultaneously as the shavings move through the horizontal tubing of the dryer.

            “We’re still trying to figure out the dryer and how it works with this new addition,” said Dennis. “I’m kind of the guinea pig for this dryer, but we’ve made nearly a 50% improvement from the way we were doing it before…both in the time it takes and in the quality of absorption.”

            According to Dennis, previously the shavings would exit the mill at about 30% moisture content. Now they’re coming out of the dryer at about 18%. Once the burner is working, that should hit 8%. This new equipment is a continuous operation in which the logs go into the shaving mill and dry shavings come out. Shavings can be milled, dried, sized, and loaded or hauled without any human hands ever having to touch the product. It has cut his one-man labor time in half which is quite pleasing.

            Dennis, who has been in business since 1960, is a seasoned business man. With 1600 acres of land and three well-established businesses across two states, he has added the shavings mill facility as supplemental income.

            Dennis, a former Vero Beach, FL native, has two businesses in his home state: SPS Contracting Inc. and D&D Farms of FL LLC. His construction site work company, which was established in 2000, serves as a coordinating company for his 12-year old cattle farm, and his 4-year old company, D&D Farms of GA LLC.

            His Florida farm is comprised of 1,000 acres with 400 head of commercial beef cattle; while his Georgia farm breeds White Tail and Fallow Deer, as well as Red Stag, a type of New Zealand elk. The deer farm is also the location for Dennis’ hay production, custom cut lumber operations and his shavings plant. A small number of cattle, about 17 to 20 heads, also reside on site. Formerly, 200 cattle were at this location as well, but Dennis sold them due to the poor economy.

            Of his three types of businesses, Dennis admitted that the site construction company has been the most popular over the years. The cattle business has been “holding its own” but it has not been as prosperous in this economy.

            “While the economy has been going down, fuel and freight have been going up,” explained Dennis. “I got into shavings because it was another niche to pay the bills. Between the hay, lumber, shavings mill, and cattle we’re holding even.”

            While 440 miles lies between his Florida-based and Georgia-based businesses, Dennis runs all his business affairs via phone from Georgia. He has a total of 40 employees between his three businesses and his Florida employees run their operations.  He and his family relocated to Georgia just four years ago because he was disgruntled with the high cost of land and living expenses in Florida.

            “I love it here in Georgia,” stated Dennis. “You couldn’t pay me to go back to Florida. My whole family loves it here too.”

            Dennis’ interest in the shavings business was peaked when a friend of his owned some Salsco mill equipment.

            “He had a few customers but he wasn’t really working the business much,” explained Dennis. “I kept talking to him and talking to him. I actually wanted to lease the equipment from him but he finally decided to sell it to me. We made a deal and I took the mill off his property and put it on mine.”

            Dennis then built a 7,500-square-foot building for his new agricultural business. He ran his used 30” Salsco mill, powered by a caterpillar diesel engine, for about 3 months before he attempted to develop a customer base.

            “I didn’t get out there at first because I was still learning how to operate the equipment,” he said. “But on that first day that I drove my truck around, I made seven stops and sold five.”

            His truck, a 2-ton F550, has a “covered box” that measures 14ft. long by 8ft. wide by 5ft. tall. Each truck load holds 20 cubic yards of shavings. Dennis delivers each filled container to his customers. When the container is used up, he exchanges it with a newly-filled container. His company currently owns 8 of these containers. He uses this delivery method to cut down on his freight expenses.

            During that time his customer base began to grow to 30 to 40 regulars, most are horse people with a small handful of poultry folks. Some feed stores would pick up his bagged shavings, but he mostly delivered his shavings in bulk.

            Then, nearly 2 ½ months ago, fire burned down his whole barn, destroying all his shaving equipment and all the shavings he had in stock. Dennis immediately contacted Sal at Salsco and upgraded to a Salsco 40” electric-powered mill with conveyers, a dryer, a re-sizer and a bagger. All of his equipment is now electric-powered rather than diesel-powered, which Dennis admitted is tremendously easier and more economical.

            According to Sal, the 40” electric mill produces up to 25-28 cubic yards per hour. The drying unit is modular in design so that it can be lengthened by adding additional tubes.

            “The drying unit is a horizontal tube that is just over 3 feet in diameter and each section is 20 feet long,” explained Sal. “In harsher climates, such as in the Northwest, there is a need for more footage on the dryers, while in the more temperate climates of the South, you wouldn’t need as much.”

            “The dryer also has welded pieces inside the tubes so that as the material travels through the tube and is suspended in the air, warm air blows inside the tube to dry the material more effectively,” added Sal.

            Prior to the fire, Dennis had a moisture problem with his shavings. Instead of a dryer he used a peanut wagon which took 7 hours a day to dry the 18 cubic yards per hour that his 30” Salsco mill had produced. Drying on the peanut wagon took 5 hours with heat and then another 2 hours with cool air. According to Dennis, it was a very slow process.

            Dennis owns a Salsco Drum Dryer with two 20-ft long sections, with one on top of the other. He thinks Sal would want him to add more to his operations, but Dennis wants to keep the size he currently has.

            After rebuilding the 7,500 square foot facility, Dennis is now producing roughly 25 cubic yards per hour. He usually runs his mill approximately seven to eight hours per day as he’s a bit nervous about leaving the mill running unattended. Half of his material is stored as bulk and the remaining half is bagged. For every 200 cubic yards, 400 bags of shavings are bagged, while the remaining 100 cubic yards are left as bulk.

            “We keep 2,000 to 3,000 bags as inventory in the barn,” Dennis commented. “We only create additional bagged shavings when someone needs it.”

            Dennis also owns a hydraulically adjustable Salsco re-sizer that can create specific shavings measurements depending on the customers’ preferences and needs.

            Prior to entry, the shavings are 8-10 inches long - thin slivers like a piece of paper, Dennis said. “Then they are conveyed into the re-sizer where they are broken down into ½-inch to 1-inch pieces. The speed on the re-sizer determines the size of the shavings. The faster it turns, the smaller the pieces, and the slower it turns, the bigger the pieces.”

            D&D Farms works solely with pine as their shavings base. The farm has 500 acres of pine available, which Dennis plans to thin during the spring of 2010. He has an additional 10 acres of pine available from neighbors. He uses a Timberline Bob Cat Sheer to cut 14” diameter trees at the stump. People also bring him logs.

            “People don’t like pine trees in Georgia because of all the needles and cones, so it’s really cheap wood around here,” stated Dennis.

            According to Dennis, several big saw mills in the area run their logs through metal detectors. When they find logs that have metal in them, due to nails or bullets, the logs are discarded. Other than the cost of hauling the wood, Dennis acquires the discarded wood for free. He then finds the metal, cuts it out, and mills it.

            A final source of pine is to transport it from his SPS Contracting sites. So far he’s transported about 8 to 10 loads from Florida. He uses a 1-ton gooseneck truck with a 35-foot trailer as his log hauler. This same truck also doubles as a dump truck that delivers 24-cubic yards of shavings at a time.

            “It’s actually cheaper to buy a load of wood than to send guys out to cut it down and then to haul it,” admitted Dennis. “Liability is higher and there’s always a risk that one of my guys might cut himself with a chainsaw. Besides there’s not enough time to do it with only 3 employees and myself. Winter time is usually the best time to gather wood. But we do have a very good situation as far as wood is concerned.”

            Dennis further explained that to purchase a 25-ton load of wood costs him approximately $600, and that it lasts him quite a while.

            His Salsco mill can produce shavings from 2-inch to 40-inch diameter logs, and he prefers bulked wood ranging between 8-foot - 10-foot lengths. His mill has a 9-foot long feed box, so he cuts his wood at 8’6” - 8’7” to fit within the box. His logs do not require debarking just delimbing.

            Ironically, Dennis has just 40 to 50 hours on his new Salsco equipment. He’s only been back in operation during the last two weeks (early November).  His mill has five rows of knives with two 20-inch knives in each row, equaling ten different blades. Every ten hours the blades require sharpening. It takes about an hour to sharpen the blades. Dennis owns seven sets of blades and has not yet used his new Salsco sharpener.

            “A sharpener is an expensive piece of equipment,” said Dennis, “but it’s worth it especially when a set of blades is fairly expensive. So it’s quite expensive just for the blades.”

            So far D&D Farms of GA supplies 100% for the horse owning community with just a couple of small chicken customers. But recently a large poultry company has approached him for shavings.

            “I am not quite ready to supply them yet because I want to do it well,” stated Dennis. “I am going to need four semis at one time to supply the 6,000 to 8,000 cubic yards that they need for their production plant. They can’t wait three to four days to have what they need. They need their supply all in one day. I need to be able to get to that capacity. I believe we’ll get there.”

            Dennis is looking forward to the day when he’ll be able to kick back and let things run with minimal effort.

            “I am 64-years old and I want to retire so that I can enjoy deer hunting. I don’t want to have to go down to work every single day. I love to hunt,” stated Dennis. “This is a family-run operation. I just wanted something (shavings) to subsidize the business.”

            Dennis and his wife, Deborah, have two children, Stacy and Justin, and three grandchildren. Deborah is the president of SPS Contracting, while Dennis is vice president. Both are equal owners. Stacy, their daughter, oversees accounts payables, while Justin, their son, is the “chief cook and bottle washer.”

            “He (Justin) cuts hay, guides, does truck delivery…He’s a big help to me,” said Dennis. “He likes it up here just as much as I do, and that’s a good thing. He’s not here just doing a job.”

            Dennis explained that his family is extremely close even though they get in “spats” at times.

            “I’m the boss, but I also tell my kids—You can drive the train. You can blow the whistle, but you’d better not run off the tracks,” Dennis chuckled.

            As to his new relationship with Sal Rizzo of Salsco Inc., Dennis stated, “Sal’s a great guy and if something goes wrong he’s dead on top of it...He’s always looking for ways to improve his product. He doesn’t build it cheap. Sal does it right so it stays together. I looked at many other mills and I liked Sal’s better than the rest.”

            Salsco Inc., which has been manufacturing equipment since 1979, designs and manufactures machinery for construction, agriculture, tree care, lawn care, and the golf course industries. Shaving mills, chippers, vacuums and greens rollers are but a small portion of the company’s product line.

            “I have found that this equipment (the Salsco mill) is so much faster and so much more product is coming out. I don’t want to get too much bigger, but I do tend to push it to the max,” Dennis admitted. “I am just looking for a way to give to my kids. I (eventually) want them to write me a check instead of me writing
them one.”


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