Grower builds accumulator to better meet market needs
Kenny Kuhns wanted a high-capacity accumulator that would work for the 45-lb small square bales he was producing for the horse market.
So he built one and added six more models.
Kuhns, North Bloomfield, OH, bales up to 40,000 small squares a year and wanted to get the job done faster and better. Some of his seven accumulator models turn bales on edge for better curing in storage. “These are made primarily for commercial hay growers who bale for the horse market,” he says.
“The reason I built it was that there was nothing on the market that did exactly what I wanted it to do. There were others that were similar, but many on the market were for 65-lb bales,” he says.
His need to handle 45-lb bales quickly is a reflection of how the market for small square bales has changed, Kuhns says.
Dairymen used to feed the 65-lb small square bales. Then they switched to big square and round bales, and small squares have become popular with horse owners. Yet women customers want lighter bales. And those smaller bales now need to be transported to more customers.
“We're actually handling hay more often than we did 30 years ago,” says the grower.
His solution was an accumulator that uses excess energy from the baler plunger to push bales to the top of the front chute. Gravity takes over, moving the bales down until the last bale in each row swings a door open to the next row.
The baler is set up to ensure correct hitch-pin position and the pressure is loosened in the bale chamber to compensate for the back pressure caused by pushing the bales up the chute. There is no extra pressure applied to the plunger and the twisting action of the chute (for on-edge models) does not deform the bales, Kuhns says.
“It's a gravity-flow hay wagon,” he points out. The accumulator, which was patented last month, also accommodates variable bale lengths, from 32" to 44", without needing adjustments.
“We're actually building seven models from size eight to 18 bales and some are flat vs. on edge,” he says. Flat models accumulate bales lying 18" wide and 14" high while edge accumulators turn the bales to lie on their 14" sides.
Midwestern growers like that feature because it speeds curing and makes bale storage easier. Southern and Western customers, he says, don't need bales on edge because hay dries so much faster in those drier climates.
Kuhns has no formal engineering training, “but I'm a farmer. I discovered I have more ability there than I had thought.” He's also working on a loader attachment or grabber that uses string to tie a group of accumulated bales.
“When you load them onto a truck or wagon, they're actually tied together,” he says. The attachment should work with any size accumulator and will be available for sale sometime in 2008.
“It is something people are very much asking for,” he says.
Since he formed his own company three years ago, the grower has doubled the number of accumulators sold every year. This year he turned out 80 units.
The name of his company — Kuhns Mfg. LLC — is probably the only setback Kuhns has. But he's corresponded with Kuhn-Knight and The Kuhn Group, which also manufacture farm machinery, although on a larger scale. Kuhn and Kuhns agree to pass on any customers who reach them in error.
For more on Kuhns' accumulator and attachment, visit www.kuhns mfg.com or call 877-296-5851.
Juggling New Business And Financial Risks
In 1995, Kenny Kuhns was a veal grower with haying equipment on hand. Not about to leave the machinery lie around, Kuhns started a hay business that has worked its way up to marketing 40,000 small square bales to horse owners.
By the turn of the century, he says, “we outgrew the ability to handle hay by hand.” So a few years later, working with a local machine shop, he designed and built his first accumulator for 45-lb bales.
This is the first year in several, he says, that he's no longer afraid to talk about the risks and challenges of juggling multiple businesses.
In 2003, the weather made haymaking a challenge that has continued through this season. A year or so later he started Kuhns Mfg., and the next year watched the veal business tank. But this year the accumulator business will top $1 million in sales.
“We had one business disintegrate, one struggle and one grow. That was a terrifying balancing act,” Kuhns says.
But Kuhns, who is also a lay counselor and an ordained Mennonite minister, gives most of the credit to others. “It's been difficult,” he admits, “but I've had good people around and employees who carry a lot of weight.”
His biggest challenge in developing his accumulator business has been financial, he says. “You can't go to the bank and say, ‘I think I'll build 10 units next year, or I might sell 60.’ What they want to know is how much money you made last year, what your sales were and what your prospects are. But how do you know? You don't have enough money to research, and you don't have a prophet who is going to tell you you're going to sell 50 next year.”
Borrowing from family makes them “distant relatives,” he says, and “venture capitalists take all the cream.” So he leveraged the farm and, fortunately, business has doubled every year.
Finding the right machinery fabricator was difficult as well. The first three shops that built his units couldn't continue to devote time to his product. But the last shop recommended an experienced man looking for work. The fabricator now builds exclusively for Kuhns.
“That was a godsend. You don't often have someone who asks, ‘Can I build a shop for you?’ ”
Kuhns' family, which includes his wife, Irma, and five sons and two daughters, has also helped. Son Glendon designed and implemented Kuhns' Web site and also helped develop a demonstration video. Irma does the bookkeeping for both businesses and answers the 30-40 inquiries a week.
Even with supportive family and employees, Kuhns is juggling more than one business, a family life, counseling and pastoring — including traveling as an itinerate preacher for up to 100 days/year.
The key to staying sane, he says, is to “milk one experience for the benefit of another.” When he travels, he can “have quiet time and study and reflect and get paid for it. That reduces a lot of stress.”