Alberta sawmill Sundance Forest Industries has a deal with North American Shavings Ltd which sees its wood residue shavings packaged for use as horse bedding at racetracks.
By Tony Kryzanowski
When it comes to bedding, racehorses like it soft and stable owners like it to have a fresh smell, and it turns out that there is nothing softer and fresher smelling than pine shavings straight from the sawmill. Roger Byrt owns North American Shavings Ltd with his son Don in Edson, Alberta. The company sells between 6,000 and 10,000 bags of lodgepole pine wood shavings per week, primarily into the US market, for use as horse bedding at racetracks, stables, riding centres and farms. The company also sells its sawdust to a particleboard plant in Missoula, Montana, as well as for use as a fluid mix in the oilpatch and on dairy farms as barn floor cover.
The attractive odour of pine shavings was an important initial selling point with stable owners. “The smell freshens the barns right up,” says Byrt. He says the six-year-old business, which employs 10 people, has become much larger than he ever imagined. At present, he sells his pine shavings product through three distributors—in California, Idaho, and one in Ontario, which serves the northeastern US market. Horse enthusiasts have discovered that their animals really appreciate pine shavings because they are softer than other shavings on the market.
Although Byrt started the business as a moneymaking enterprise, he is also somewhat of an environmental hero. “A large local sawmill, Sundance Forest Industries, was generating a fair amount of wood shavings in its moulding and planing operations,” says Byrt. “That presented it with a big disposal problem. “Typically, shavings are burned but with large volumes, that isn’t always a solution.” Also, the sawmill discovered from its research that pine shavings do not work well as feedstock in co-generation because it burns too hot. It was happy to cooperate with Byrt, offering him free shavings for the first five years of a 15-year contract to help him get his business established. Sundance Forest Industries general manager Mike Dion described the company’s partnership with North American Shavings as very positive.
Citic Canada, which has its head office in China, owns the Sundance mill. It produces high-end pine products in metric sizes used primarily by furniture and specialty wood product manufacturers. Annual production is about 200,000 cubic metres, with half sold in North America and the rest sold into various markets around the world, including Asia and Mexico. The sawmill generates most of its shavings from three moulders used to manufacture wood components. Dion says if the sawmill hadn’t made an arrangement with Byrt, then the shavings likely would have been burned. The company built a hopper to assist North American Shavings in efficiently transporting the material.
Drivers simply position their trucks beneath the hopper, open a chute, and load the truck boxes. The shavings are transported to a business park west of Edson where a cluster of value-added wood manufacturing businesses has sprung up. This is also where Byrt operates his other business, the local UFA Petroleum franchise. That’s in fact what brought Sundance Forest Industries and Byrt together. He supplies many of the sawmill’s contractors with fuel, so he has a well-established relationship with the sawmill. When the mill expanded in 1997 and began generating a high volume of shavings, it was looking for a way to market the pine shavings instead of burning them.
The partnership with Byrt evolved from there, and his knowledge of the transportation industry was a definite plus. “North American Shavings is creating jobs and export sales because of the market it has found for our pine shavings,” says Dion. “It’s all adding towards our country’s balance of trade.” In addition to avoiding incineration of the pine shavings, the environment is benefiting in yet another way. Byrt has contracted the services of an Edmonton trucking firm that transports a lot of produce from the US to Canada on a regular basis. Many of its trucks were returning empty to the US.
Now they have loads of bagged, pine shavings to take back. Each truck takes between 950 and 1,000 bags per load, and the truckers like to haul the material because it is light and easy to handle. The lighter load reduces fuel consumption. Processing the shavings through a screen hopper is critical to Byrt’s business, as it screens out the sawdust from the shavings. Minimal dust content is an important consideration for his racetrack clients. The fact that he packages his product in heat-sealed—rather than stapled—bags appeals to his customers. Bag staples can fall into the bedding and injure the racehorses.
The company’s pine shavings are also a very dry bedding product, with moisture content below nine per cent. Working to establish his business, Byrt began by selling his bedding to local feedlots. After a positive response to a marketing phone call made to the California Racing Commission, he shipped a load for the organization to try at their racetrack facilities. They were very pleased, and the business took off from there, as long as he could provide the shavings in heat sealed bags. Vervielle, based in Drummondville, Quebec, supplied the mechanized bagger.
Byrt started out using a skid steer to feed his custom-built, indoor shaving screen hopper. However, his equipment operators found that it was difficult to monitor the load of shavings as it was being lifted and dumped into the screen hopper. Secondly, wood particles had a habit of falling back onto the cab and into equipment components. Because the shavings and screen hopper have to be situated indoors to avoid moisture damage, using a large conventional loader to solve the problem was not a viable option. Byrt approached Finning, the Caterpillar dealer in Alberta, for its recommendation.
The company suggested Caterpillar’s new 906 compact wheel loader. It was recently introduced as part of Cat’s new compact construction equipment line. “It is perfectly sized for our type of work,” says Byrt. He rented the unit for about six months to make sure it could do the job. Because it was so obviously suited for working indoors as the screen hopper feeder, and had the versatility to exchange attachments quickly and easily with its QuickLock hydraulic coupler system, he decided to purchase the unit and apply his rental payments toward the purchase. “With this loader, the operator is sitting up higher and has good visibility,” says Byrt. Caterpillar used virtual reality technology to test the operator’s line of sight to the work tool and surrounding area when it designed the wheel loader.
The unit’s VersaLink loader linkage and contoured hood improves ground level viewing. The linkage provides excellent viewing to either side of the QuickLock coupler and work tool. Its parallel lift capability allows for precise handling and eliminates the need to adjust the load level while raising the forks. The 906 compact wheel loader comes equipped with a 60 hp, 3034 naturally aspirated diesel engine. It has an operating weight of 11,060 lbs.
In terms of attachments, it has a bucket capacity of one cubic yard and a fork capacity of 4150 lbs. In addition to a wide range of bucket configurations, including a side dump bucket, the wheel loader can also operate an angle broom and pickup sweeper. The loader is handy in other areas of Byrt’s diverse business operations, such as transporting pallets of oil or sawdust. Byrt says it only takes the operator a few seconds to detach one implement and attach another from inside the cab. Screening and bagging operations at the animal bedding business runs 16 hours a day, five days a week. Business is a little slower in summer when horses spend more time outdoors. However, from September to June, North American Shavings has a market for its product almost as soon as the company can bag and ship it.
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