Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - November 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
Smart Solutions, Global Success
HerdStar’s inventive livestock solutions reach new international markets.
Despite the fact that its U.S. customers are this year enduring the deepest agricultural drought since the 1950s, Mankato-based HerdStar is continuing to enjoy the robust 25- 30 percent growth that it has notched in each of the past five years.
HerdStar manufactures high-tech solutions to challenges in livestock operations. Each solution is designed for a very specific application, from tracking the amount of feed left in a feed bin, to providing newborn piglets with the correct amount of warmth.
Many of HerdStar’s domestic customers are feeling the effects of the drought-induced spike in U.S. feed prices. But Vice President Mark Jaeger says the company’s doubling of international sales over the past year has helped it to maintain steady and significant growth.
HerdStar’s signature BinTrac® product line digitally and remotely measures and tracks feed bin weight and feed consumption, and can alert producers of low feed levels and potential feed line malfunctions preventing feed from being delivered to the animals. Bin legs are equipped with patented, screw jack-like brackets that lift bins half an inch to weigh them and immediately send the data to a website.
Jaeger says the system is a safer and more accurate alternative to traditional bin weighing and monitoring methods, which require lifting bins between six and eight inches by crane to place them on a loadcell, or climbing up the bins to estimate the amount of feed remaining by sight. The accurate readings prevent “feed out” events, in which feed runs out on weekend days when many feed mills don’t deliver, and the animals go hungry. Up the supply chain, BinTrac® also helps streamline feed mill delivery schedules by providing an accurate gauge of when and how much to deliver to each bin, often enabling them to deliver full loads to a single site.
The company’s MicroZone™ product is an electronic monitoring system that regulates the temperature of the heat lamps and heat mats that keep piglets warm in farrowing barns. While nature’s way has been for piglets to stay close to their mothers, a 1995 survey of U.S. swine management practices conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that the number-one cause of death among pre-weaned piglets in farrowing barns is being accidentally laid on by their mothers. This accounted for 48.7 percent of all pre-weaned piglet deaths. MicroZone™ creates what Jaeger calls a “micro-environment” for the piglets, taking into account both the age of the piglets and the surrounding temperature to provide each litter with the correct amount of warmth.
“Before, producers would just raise the heat lamps manually as the piglets got older, in order to provide the correct amount of warmth. But our unit regulates the power to those lamps based on the room temperature,” Jaeger explains. “As the piglets grow older, the unit decreases the amount of warmth accordingly.”
Jaeger says producers using the product can expect their heat lamps and mats to require about 30 percent less electricity than they would with manual heat adjustments. Among all their customers, this results in a collective electricity savings of about $2.8 million each year.
HerdStar products have been sold in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Columbia, Ecuador, England, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, South Africa and the United States. Jaeger says diversification into foreign markets has helped the company avoid volatility in sales when U.S. agriculture takes a hit. Earlier this year, the company also began selling BinTrac® products in South Korea, where sales already exceed 10 percent of its total sales.
Jaeger next hopes to sell into Eastern Europe. To do so, HerdStar’s products must meet requirements for Europe’s CE marking, which is affixed to all European products to indicate compliance with a common set of European safety, environment, health and consumer protection laws. The products’ current UL mark is the U.S. equivalent to Europe’s CE marking, but U.S. product laws differ from those in Europe. Jaeger says this may make meeting CE requirements challenging and costly, particularly if it requires modifying the products themselves. But he remains optimistic: “As a company, our goal is to grow our markets geographically, both domestically and worldwide. We know this will only help us grow and become more stable.”
To learn more about HerdStar, visit www.bintrac.com and www.herdstar.com.
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