Category Archives: Equipment

A Simple Cattle Mineral Feeder

In everything we do on our farm we are always looking for simple, inexpensive and functional methods to accomplish a task. Constructing a basic mineral feeder has been on my to-do list for quite a while. With winter comes the slower months on the farm and I finally got around to tackling this much needed project. When I set out to build a mineral feeder for our cattle, the first thing I did was to perform a quick image search to see what others were doing. That search was very productive and generated a bunch of ideas for me to consider. As per usual, I employed elements of several different designs to generate my own solution. I created a quick, basic isometric sketch along with a material list and dove in. What we came up with has worked very well so far (with limited use), was very inexpensive, and should last for many years to come. In short, I’m thrilled with what we built and it only took about 3-1/2 hours to complete with two men.

Our feeder is complete and ready to head out to the pasture!

This feeder is servicing 24 cattle currently and has two compartments. While I have considered building and using a mineral feeder with up to 16 different compartments as a free choice “buffet” for the cows, I just can’t bring myself to spend that much money on minerals. I’m not saying they aren’t worthwhile, just that they are expensive and thus far we have had really good results without doing anything fancy. Many times, we haven’t even had mineral out for our stocker cattle at all, but just a basic mineral salt. That coupled with good grass in the grazing season, and decent quality grass hay (again, nothing great) has served us well. All that said, I should have built this feeder a long time ago, but I could say that about a lot of projects on my farm! A basic 1:1 mineral mix from Helfter Feeds and Redmond mineral salt are not super expensive, and do provide a lot of benefits for the cattle.

It took the cattle all of about two seconds to begin using the feeder. 

Now that we have our first cow-calf pairs on the farm (and the cows should be bred back) I’m getting more serious about making sure we don’t have any deficiencies, especially for the mamma cows. Growing babies is serious business! On that note, once the ladies are within 60-90 days of giving birth we’ll be segregating them so that we can put them on a grass based organic feed for good development and nutrition. I’m certain I’ll be building another one of these feeders soon, but perhaps with some dividers in the barrels to make it a four compartment setup. For now, two compartments is fine and works great.

Our mineral feeder is constructed out of treated 2×4 material. We screwed it together with anti-corrosive coated screws (both 1-1/2” and 3” long) and bolstered everything with some 3” long galvanized lag bolts. The metal was secured with some rubber gasketed roofing screws to keep moisture out of our compartments. The lumber ran us about $50 at the local 84 Lumber store and the lag bolts about $4 at our Rural King farm store. All of the screws were left over from other projects as were the anti-tip boards (2×6 treated scrap) on the bottom of the legs. The metal that was used was new, but was free (it came as a protective layer on some new metal we custom ordered for a small deck on our house). The barrel that was used cost around $12 a few years back, but should you buy one today I don’t think it would cost much more than that if any. All together, we had less than $70 in this project thanks to the free metal. Had I purchased the metal, it probably would have cost nearly $125 but would still be a very worthwhile project as it serves a really important function.

The basic framing for our mineral feeder is complete. Using all 2×4 treated lumber, it is approximately 6′ long, 2′ deep and 5′ tall in the front.

Overall our feeder is approximately 6′-0” long, 2′-0” deep and 5′-0” tall in the front. We made the rear about 4′-6” tall to shed rainwater with the back facing West. I’m not listing specific dimensions however for the simple fact that the horizontal framework is based entirely upon the size barrel one might use. The only critical dimension I will mention is that we set the top of the feeder at 2′-0” from the ground so it would be an easy reach for our smaller calves. We’ve settled upon Lowline Black Angus as our breed of choice to build our herd with, and with their smaller frames we didn’t want to make this difficult for them to reach. That dimension was a really a guesstimate on my part, and it seems to be working just fine but I’m glad we didn’t make it any higher. If all else fails I can always make it shorter!

Two 3″ coated screws as well as one 3/8″ diameter x 3″ long galvanized lag bolt were used on nearly all joints.

We secured our two barrel halves with 1-1/2″ long coated screws. Each side got 14-16 screws so that the cows can’t knock it loose. Note that the top of the feeder is set 24″ above grade.

Some scrap 2″x6″ treated material leftover from another project provided the anti-tip support for the legs.

If you are in need of a mineral feeder, you will be hard pressed to find a simpler design for the basis of what you build. This style could also be easily modified to work for smaller livestock like sheep or goats and could even be used to feed small amounts of hay. Just be sure to have a friend lend you a hand when constructing this as it really speeds up the process. Good luck!

Product Review: O’Briens Fence Reel & Treadaline Step-In Post 

Back when we first began grazing cattle, it was the most labor intensive part of our day.  We would painstakingly tear down and setup portable electric netting for our cattle, move a solar energizer and layout as much garden hose as required to water them.  And we did this every single day!  Thankfully, our business has come a long way since 2011 when we were last doing that for our cattle.  You do what you must to pave the way for smoother sailing, and crawl before you walk.  The growth of our business has allowed us to invest into infrastructure which now makes moving cattle the quickest, easiest and most enjoyable part of our day.

While building lots of permanent fence and putting in buried water were the big tasks to make our job easier, the day to day tools that have been useful are the portable reels and fence posts.  These simple items can quickly subdivide your larger grazing areas into small paddocks for the daily rotation of livestock.  Daily rotation is a key management practice used to really keep your grasses in that fast growth stage, which will fatten up your cattle the quickest, and make you the most money per acre.  We like to have 30-45 days of rest on a grazing area before we hit it again.  By using the portable posts and reels, we can quickly size up or scale down our paddock sizes to meet the current demand of our herd, grass conditions, future grazing needs, etc.  These tools are excellent for this task, and have proven themselves the last two and half seasons on our farm.

A portable reel with electric twine and step-in posts are used to sub-divide large permanent fenced areas into a days worth of grazing. Photo courtesy of Simpson Family Farm.

First up is the O’Brien Fence Reel.  While you have several choices to pick from, it basically boils down to a geared reel or non-geared reel, with several variations there of.  In short, a 3:1 “geared” reel will turn three times for every one crank of the handle.  A “non-geared”, or “standard” reel is 1:1 and turns one rotation per one crank of the handle.  We started in early 2012 with the 3:1 geared reels because the 1:1 geared reels were out of stock from a local farm store.  As an aside, I was told I didn’t need a 3:1 reel unless I was going to drop the wire on the ground, stand stationary and reel it up quickly.  I’ve used the O’Brien 3:1 reels the last two and a half years and absolutely love them.  They are very well built, durable and do the job well.  I’ve dropped them, run over them, toss them around like a rental and they are still ticking.  You can feel the heft and quality in this unit the moment you pick it up.  It will also hold nearly 1,400′ feet of portable electrified fence wire (twine) which is very handy when moving animals long distances.

O’Brien standard 1:1 fence reel shown. Photo courtesy of Kencove Fence Company.

This Spring, my favorite online farm store (Kencove Fence Co.) was out of the stock on the 3:1 reels from O’Brien (and as far as I can tell as of this writing, has dropped those completely in favor of a Stafix brand 3:1 standard sized reel).  Not giving it much thought, I ordered three of the 1:1 O’Brien reels.  Well evidently that advice I was given about not needing the 3:1 reels was bad!  I guess I must walk pretty fast when reeling up fence wire because I figured out pretty quick that I really prefer the 3:1 reels much more than the 1:1.  I won’t say I hate the 1:1 reels, but I do dislike them very much.  I find that I have to walk much slower when winding these, which slows me down, and it’s also harder to keep the wire taught on the reel (which is a big deal when winding wire).  I also feel that the 1:1 reels are a lot flimsier in construction than the 3:1 reels.  They are not as well balanced with the wire on them and I can often feel them “wobble” significantly from side to side when reeling.  In short, for about $10 more, stick with a 3:1 geared reel from O’Brien.  And while I can’t comment on the Stafix reels Kencove now carries, I do recommend the Stafix 9 wire electric twine for your reels from Kencove.

Concerning Kencove, I’ve generally been really happy with them and recommend them highly to anyone.  However I recently had a frustrating experience with them when buying the 1:1 reels.  The 3:1 reels come with a plastic gate handle that ties off your loose electric wire and connects to your high tensile fence.  Not thinking about this, I ordered the 1:1 reels and they showed up without these handles.  With no handle, they are worthless equipment!  I called Kencove to let them now they forgot my handles, only to be told you have to order those separately on the 1:1 reels.  They cost a whooping . cents each, but cost me an additional $7 in shipping and a boat load of frustration in the interim while waiting on them.  I still love Kencove, but I let them know in no uncertain terms they either need to warn you when ordering to add the handle or to simply add $1 to the cost of the reel and add the handle as standard!  Be forewarned if you order from them to include the handle if you get the 1:1 reel.  It’s product number “GPL” on their website, and don’t forget the jumper leads to connect your reel to your electric fence!

Next up is the O’Brien treadaline step-in fence post.  Let me say up front that I first heard about these posts from a very well known grazer:  Greg Judy.  Greg once commented in a seminar I attended that he had bought every different step-in fence post style and brand known to man.  He also said that everything except the treadaline posts were laying unused and/or broken in a pile in the corner of his barn.  When a guy like Greg Judy speaks, you listen!

O’Brien treadaline step-in fence post shown. Photo courtesy of Kencove Fence Company.

The treadaline posts are expensive (about $4/post shipped if you buy a box of 50 from Kencove) but man do they work.  And they last!  To be frank, I’m hard on equipment and I’ve yet to bust one of these posts – some are a little bent and twisted, but still working just fine.  You can literally bend one around your knee into a u-shape and it will not break.  What really makes these things tick however is the extra long spike on the bottom that goes into the ground.  A small detail, but big difference in quality can be noticed by how far up into the post the spike goes.  It’s a good 2″ longer than most, and goes above the “step” you place your foot on to drive it into the ground.  This keeps it from breaking off like many other posts, rendering it a piece of junk for the corner in your barn.  Add to that the versatility of 4 electric tape clips on one side, and 8 electric twine hooks on the other and you have a winning product.   You can also use these posts for cattle, sheep, pigs, etc.  If you know much about me, you know that I like equipment that has multiple uses (function stacking) and this post fits that bill.  Personally, I like spending my money on stuff that will take real world farm abuse and keep on ticking.  The O’Brien treadaline posts meet the challenge and is worth twice the cost of a cheap post at your local farm supply store.  You get what you pay for, and no doubt this will fail on you at the worst possible time:  When you are using it for it’s intended purpose!

Remember when buying any equipment, you can’t “unbuy” it.  And it’s better to buy something that will last versus something that is cheap and will need to be replaced.  I hope you find this review helpful and the equipment productive in making your grazing efforts faster and more profitable.

Pig Drinking Deck

The first few years that we raised pigs on our farm, our largest struggle was that of drinking water.  We didn’t have any issues getting them to use a water nipple connected to a pressurized hose, the issue came from the rooting that occurred around the drinker.  This required frequent relocation which was always a pain in the neck, and sometimes extremely laborious if the ground conditions were dry.  Since most of our pigs are finished on the farm between May and November, dry ground is usually the rule and not the exception.

After years of frustration and testing different ideas and methods, I finally developed what we affectionately call the “piggy drinking deck”.  This simple solution has since saved me countless hours, loads of frustration and mitigates large holes (wallows) appearing everywhere.  I don’t mind the pigs having a good wallow, and in fact they need one!  But they don’t need dozens of them which can ruin equipment and break the legs of both man and beast.  Once new pigs on the farm figure out how the drinker works, it doesn’t take them long to make a wallow in short order.  I’ve actually witnessed them holding the nipple valve “open” and intentionally not drinking, allowing the water to hit the ground thereby enhancing said wallow construction.

No piggy drinking deck? This hole was made in less than 72 hours, by new pigs who had never used a water nipple

The piggy drinking deck is very simply a 3′ x 3′ x 4″ platform with a diamond shaped hole cut in the center two boards.  Materials include one (1) 2″x4″x12′ treated board cut into 3′ long sections and mitered for the base.  Two (2) 10′ long, 5/4″ treated deck boards are then used to make a simple platform to stand on.  We space the deck boards for water drainage.  A t-post is  driven thru this hole using a 3lb. hammer and a double nipple drinker is then mounted to it using two adjustable pipe hose clamps.  This allows the height of the nipple drinker to quickly be changed based on the maturity size of the pigs.  Water is supplied via a pressurized garden hose with a shut-off valve.  This is routed and tied to a second t-post on the outside of the pig paddock, which keeps the hose up off the ground and away from the pigs.  The nipple drinkers I have found are smaller than the garden hose and come with a male 1/2″ threaded connection.  We simply buy a 4′ or 6′ washing machine supply hose and use it to connect between the shut-off valve and the drinker.  Be certain to use double rubber washers on each end of the washer hose to avoid leaking.  It’s not a perfect fit for works just fine for pigs.

Here the drinker is all setup and ready for use. A small amount of grain is set out to lure the pigs to this area for water. Note the washer hose is up high where the pigs can’t reach it and destroy it!

Pigs are a number of things, and one of their traits is a very high intelligence.  Even if they have never been exposed to a nipple style drinker before, they are quick to learn.  By simply hanging around the ole’ watering hole and waiting on them to come into the area, you can reach thru the fence with a stick and actuate the waterer for them to drink.  After doing this a few times over three or so days, one of the pigs will pick up on how to use the nipple drinker.  Within another day, all of the other pigs will learn from him how to do the same thing.  Plenty of fresh water is paramount for good animal health and performance.  And after years of toiling with other ideas that didn’t work, this one tip will save you lots of time, frustration, poor performance and in the end money!

Pigs enjoying a nice, cool drink on a hot day. The hose is connected to a post hydrant just about 50′ away.