Firewood Machine Aids Maine Farm Operations

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Winterwood Farm: Timber Wolf Firewood Machine Aids Maine Farm Operations

LYMAN, Maine — Twenty years ago, Bob St. Onge and his wife, Judy,set out to achieve a vision for their lives. The couple wanted to develop a conservationplan for their farm land and to earn a living with it instead of working for someone else.

They have accomplished some of their plans for the land and havemanaged to become wholly self-sufficient in terms of earning a living. They raise beefcattle, operate a firewood business and a composting facility, plow snow and sand roads inthe winter, and sell some gravel.

“We make a good living from it all, and we’re enjoying whatwe do as much as we ever did,” Bob told TimberLine recently.

timberwolf1.JPG (31890 bytes)Their diverse business operations are basedat Winterwood Farm, which consists of 200 acres owned by the couple and another 100 acresthey lease. A mixture of timber and fields make up the bulk of the farm, which is locatedin southern Maine near the coast. An on-going program of land purchases will expand thefarm over time.

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To achieve their vision for the farm, Bob and Judy are managing much oftheir land to create a high grade forest. They have established a black walnut plantationon the land, created and improved wildlife habitat, and are establishing a system ofponds.

The firewood business has averaged sales of more than 500 cords peryear. With the addition of a firewood processing machine from Timber Wolf ManufacturingCorp., they expect sales to exceed 700 cords in 2000.

Most operations at Winterwood Farm have a dual purpose — theyimprove the land and produce income. The firewood business is an example. “We buy aconsiderable amount of timber for processing firewood,” said Bob. “But we alsocut quite a bit from our own property. On our land, we do nothing but thinning, so verylittle of what we get is viable for lumber, but it can be turned into a valuable product.So we’re earning our income from the land at the same time as we’re makingprogress towards achieving our long-term plan for the farm.”

The kind of foresight the St. Onges have shown in planning for thefuture of their farm is needed in the firewood business. An efficient firewood operationrequires considerably more advance planning than some might believe is needed. Generally,processed firewood is sold after the wood has seasoned or dried for nine months to a year,so the raw material must be obtained well in advance.

Most of the wood in the Winterwood Farm firewood business is purchasedor cut during the winter, then stockpiled for drying through spring and summer. Bob buyswood from a variety of sources, including loggers looking for outlets for logs that cannotbe utilized for grade lumber. The wood supplements the thinnings from Winterwood Farm.

Dry or partly dry wood is processed throughout the year to assure anadequate supply once the heating season begins in the fall. “The minimum we usuallydo is about four cords per day,” said Bob. “On a good day we’ll do as muchas six cords. We pretty much process the year around.”

Winterwood Farm relies on a Timber Wolf TW-ProMX firewood processingmachine. It is capable of handling trees up to 24 feet long. The Timber Wolf has a livedeck — a Ford tractor with forks feeds the logs — and both cuts the wood tolength and splits it. The machine is housed in a shed that is long enough to cover aconveyor and the one-ton dump truck used for deliveries, which are made by Judy. “AllI have to do is get out and look to make sure all the wood came out, and I’m on myway,” she said with a laugh.

Winterwood Farm’s firewood goes to a wide range of customers.”A lot of people around here burn wood as their primary heating,” said Bob.”We also have a lot of housing developments nearby; those people tend to burn woodfor supplemental heat and for emergencies. Almost every year we’re out of power forsome of the time, and the ice storms we had a couple of years ago really woke people up tohow important it is to be able to get by without electricity for a few days. So now justabout everyone around here buys some wood each year.” Sales vary from as little as ahalf a cord for someone who wants firewood only for emergencies to several cords for ahomeowner who burns wood as a primary heat source.

timberwolf2.JPG (30814 bytes)Bob bought the Timber Wolf firewoodprocessor in the spring of 1999. It already has had a tremendous impact on his firewoodbusiness. “We had a smaller splitter previously,” he said, “and we wereworking ourselves to death. With this machine, the hard work is done by the equipment, notby our backs, so we can produce a lot more wood with a lot less effort than we couldbefore.”

Reducing the amount of hard physical work is important to Bob becausehe herniated a disk in his back about a year ago; he cannot afford to aggravate the injurywith rough manual labor. The Timber Wolf has allowed him to continue operating hisbusiness efficiently at a time when, without the machine, he would have had to hireexpensive help or curtail production.

Bob looked at a number of different machines before deciding on theTimber Wolf. An important factor was staying with a supplier that had done well by him inthe past. “I liked everything about the company, and they’d always treated mewell. Nothing changed when Timber Wolf bought Valley Processors. Timber Wolf has alwaystreated us super. That was important to me.

“I’ve worked hard for my money, and I want to be treatedright when I’m putting this kind of money into a machine. They have just beenexcellent to work with and I’ve been very happy.”

Besides saving wear and tear on his body, the Timber Wolf firewoodprocessor saves Bob valuable time that he can devote to other activities at WinterwoodFarms. Besides raising cattle, the St. Onges also recycle organic material by compostingit. The composting operation accepts stumps and other wood waste generated byland-clearing, for example. Top soil is recovered from the wood, and then the stumps anddebris are ground up. Other organic matter, such as manure and fish waste, also goes intothe compost. The finished compost is sold to homeowners.

The St. Onges also sell small amounts of gravel they recover fromexcavating ponds they are creating on the farm. They plan one day to start a fish farmingoperation in the ponds, which also benefit wildlife.

All the work on the farm is performed by Bob and Judy and a small crewof college students who work on a part-time basis. Their son, Justin, is studying foresttechnology at Paul Smith College and will be joining the family business soon, putting hiseducation to work in managing the Winterwood Farm forest. “Eventually we willprobably work up to having about six employees here,” said Bob.

An old axiom is that if you do what you love, you’ll love what you do. In workingto bring to fruition a vision they had 20 years ago, Bob and Judy St. Onge clearly lovewhat they are doing at Winterwood Farm. Today, the husband and wife team is well on theway to creating a self-sustaining, ecologically-balanced, farm-based business thatprovides an on-going living for the family as well as improving forest and wildliferesources.