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Daily grind

Feeders rely on operators with behemouth tubs to bale them out

Staff writer

There is a website named Rotogrinders where members play fantasy sports. But the real roto-grinders are the ones farmers use to grind big round bales of roughage into fine feed for their cattle.

Some cattle feeders own their own tub grinders, but many rely on custom operators who come to their farms and grind the hay as needed.

Tub-grinders come in various sizes, but all have a rotating, motorized tub with blades on the bottom to grind up large bales. The ground feed is augered onto a pile on the ground. Small tub grinders are operated hydraulically from tractors. Commercial machines have their own engines.

The feed can be fed as ground or blended in a feed truck with grain or silage.

Frank Wirtz, 57, of Lost Springs has been grinding hay for at least 25 years. He has a small tub grinder mounted on a truck bed. A tractor loader is used to deposit bales into the tub.

Wirtz serves small cattle feeders in the area and said he does at least one job most workdays, although the jobs are fewer than they used to be.

“Some guys aren’t feeding as many cattle as they used to,” he said.

Wind limits the days he can grind. Wirtz said when the wind gets up to 20 miles per hour or more, it blows the feed away as it is augured out. He avoids grinding on those days.

He takes it all in stride.

“Some days are good, and some days are bad,” he said.

Wirtz competes with other custom operators, but he views each one as having their place.

“I go with the smaller jobs, and they go with the bigger ones,” he said. “They’re happy and I’m happy.”

Tony Hett and his wife Jennifer of Lincolnville recently purchased a commercial tub grinder from Ron Bartel of Hillsboro after Bartel quit the business.

The “Mighty Giant” is complete in itself. From a cab, Hett controls a long arm with a hay claw on the end to pick up big bales and place them in the rotating tub. The machine has a motor with more than 500 horsepower and works fast. It can grind up a bale in a minute.

Hett serves large feedlot operators throughout Marion County. He is devoting full-time to the new business.

“It’s been good so far,” he said. “The credit goes to the Diepenbrock family. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have gotten this going. They helped me in a lot of different ways.”

Dean Bina of Marion feeds ground hay to his cattle.

He said he does it because he can mix poor hay with good quality hay and cattle will eat it all. Feeding ground hay prevents hay from being wasted, he said, as happens when a bale is fed free choice in a bale feeder.

Bina mixes the ground feed with silage and grain to produce a complete feed. He said the ground feed is easier to handle than bales.

Burrows Enterprises LLC of Greeley, Colorado, a manufacturer of tub grinders, notes on its website that cattle may waste from 20 to 50 percent of hay fed as large round bales. Grinding the roughage and feeding in bunks results in almost no loss.

University research has shown that feeding ground roughage can result in greater weight gains, from 20 to 40 percent when compared with the same amount un-ground.

Last modified Jan. 15, 2015

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