Integrity First – an FCS Financial Member Feature
Eagle Ridge Shavings thrives on honesty, teamwork
By Joann Pipkin
East of the Queen City of the Ozarks, the four-lane winds along the hillsides of the Ozark Mountains. The crispness of the season chills the air this autumn day as gold, red and orange paint the skyline.
Known for its apple festival and as a hub for the area’s Amish community, a quiet country road turns south on the outskirts of the sleepy rural town of Seymour. Along the ridge at the lane’s end, the region’s timber and poultry industries join hands.
Here, a joint venture between two men turns logs into a value-added product that area farmers welcome with open arms. Rooted by their faith and justness, partners Lavern Ropp and David Peachey work in earnest behind the scenes with their team. Formed in 2012, the duo today ships premium quality bulk and bagged shavings mostly to turkey and chicken growers within a 200-mile radius of Webster County.
A labor of love of sorts, the men behind Eagle Ridge Shavings bring their love of agriculture to the table through their sustainable craft.
From The Ground Up
Born and raised in the Seymour area, Lavern’s father ran cattle and built houses in Springfield. It was a trade Lavern continued until about 2000.
“I was looking for an opportunity to work at home,” Lavern explains.
“Raising turkeys was something that I just really enjoyed. I still do,” Lavern says.
When it became difficult to acquire bedding for the poultry houses, Lavern thought starting a wood shavings company would be a good investment.
But, he knew he needed help to do so.
“When we first started, I was looking for someone to go into business with me,” Lavern recalls. “David was willing to help find equipment, do bookwork. We’ve been a good team together.”
Having grown up on a farm in Kentucky, David later lived in North Carolina where his father had a dairy farm.
“I consider myself a farmer,” David explains, though he admits he hasn’t always been full-time in the trade.
David has called Seymour home since 2004 and built log furniture prior to his partnership with Lavern. Today, he farms part-time in addition to managing much of the day-to-day operations at the Eagle Ridge.
“When we started, there was just one building here,” David says.
Eagle Ridge Shavings has come a long way from its modest beginning five years ago. In its infancy, the mill was home to only a shaver and conveyor.
“I’ll never forget when we got our first big order,” Lavern says. “First, we were looking for customers, and then all of a sudden it just broke loose.”
Early on, the business focused on producing green product. An old sawmill is the foundation of the operation. Additional buildings, equipment and technology have helped bring the operation full circle with 10 employees now helping shell out 350 yards of shavings per day. A 120 foot by 160 foot building was constructed on the back side of the property to store rice hulls and serve as a mechanic shop. The main building houses the shavers, dry product and bagging equipment.
Key to the operation’s success includes a dryer system installed to help cut down on moisture in the shavings as well as a spreading service for growers which puts bedding directly into the poultry houses.
“That has been a real key for us to be able to spread the product right in the barn,” Lavern says. Before, bedding would have to be spread with side delivery rakes. The spreader allows bedding to reach the wall of the poultry house. “This way when we’re done, the growers are ready to go in to make their brooder rings, and it’s all even. They don’t have to do a thing.”
Shipped in from Arkansas, rice hulls have recently been added to the product line and are becoming especially popular with turkey farmers. Chicken growers and dairy producers are also becoming fond of the rice hulls, which can also be blended with traditional wood shavings.
“The rice hulls are something that you can’t pack, and it keeps the shavings loose and the moisture goes down through the bedding rather than just caking over,” Lavern explains.
He adds that the bagged product brings diversity to the operation. “I like to be able to have my eggs in several baskets rather than just in one thing,” Lavern says.
Most of the logs used at Eagle Ridge are trucked in from areas in Douglas, Howell, Shannon, Texas and Wright counties in Missouri.
“We’re in between the pine woods and the market for shavings, so it works out well,” David explains. “The loggers are willing to drive a distance to get here.”
While David handles equipment maintenance and day-to-day management of Eagle Ridge and Lynette Ramer oversees the office, Lavern’s daughter Missy does much of the bagging. His wife, Shawn, also helps out in the office while son Tyler helps Lavern with their farming operation. Two additional children, Ladonna and Regan, are still in school. Wayne Ramer, Lynette’s father, manages the mill. David’s family includes wife Rachel, and children Benjamin, Katriel, Josiah, Grace, Adam and Hans.
One Log at a Time
Turning logs into shavings is more than simply shaving off wood one layer at a time.
“When we first started, we were making green product,” Lavern explains. But, after a mold formed from the damper shavings, a dryer system was installed to provide growers with a more acceptable product that would also be healthier for the birds. Now Eagle Ridge only sells dry product.
Lavern says Eagle Ridge is different from other mills. “We used to have to notch our knives to get the size product that we want, but we ended up putting in a hammer mill system that the green product is sucked through,” he explains. “It has been the most efficient way of sizing product.”
When green shavings are run through a hammer mill and then dried, a more uniform product is the end result. Dry shavings sent through the same hammer mill grind into smaller fragments.
Once out of the hammer mill, the shavings are blown into a chamber and then metered into a furnace.
“After (the shavings) make three passes through our drum, it gets blown in and comes into a shaker,” Lavern explains. “We shake out the fines. That’s actually what fuels our furnace.”
The inlet temperature for the shavings is between 800 and 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. “The hot air floats around in the drum,” Lavern says. “The drum is a triple pass drum. When the shavings are dry, it’ll suck out this way. The wetter shavings won’t come out until they’re dry enough to actually float.”
Once dry, the product is around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Providing a dry product for the poultry industry is important to Lavern and David, despite the consistency challenge.
“To keep your heat right, your ventilation right, keep your humidity down in your barn, you have to have a dry atmosphere to maintain a healthy bird,” Lavern says. “When you start having high ammonia, the wetter your floor, the more ammonia you’ll have in the air. Then, you have to ventilate more. It just becomes a vicious cycle, so the drier the atmosphere the better your bird health.”
In the Other Basket
As if running Eagle Ridge wasn’t enough to keep Lavern and David busy, both also manage their own farms.
David’s farm includes a small cow-calf operation on 20 acres. Lavern’s Dusty R Ranch features a 160-head commercial cow-calf operation in addition to growing tom turkeys on contract for Cargill. Three, 500-foot poultry barns house about 30,000 birds at capacity.
“We’ll put about 1,000 to 1,200 birds per ring,” he explains. The poults stay in the brooder rings under heat until six or seven days old. At approximately eight weeks old, the flock is divided in half and split between two grow out facilities. The brooder house is cleaned and fresh shavings are added before bringing in the next flock. Lavern raises about four flocks each year.
Raising tom turkeys can be a bit challenging as the birds grow. At market time, weights are usually between 45 and 52 pounds.
Lavern’s cattle operation includes both a spring and fall calving season. While the herd is centered around Angus-based females, the cows are bred to Piedmontese bulls. At marketing time, calves are sold off the farm to Heartland Meats in Mendota, Illinois.
“We get paid a premium for our calves,” Lavern says. “Piedmontese have two copies of the myostatin gene. They are an extremely tender beef. They’re lean.”
The program has proved fruitful for Lavern. He’s been working with Heartland for about 16 years. The meat is marketed as hormone and antibiotic free through farmer’s markets and high-end restaurants in Chicago.
Lavern first came to know FCS Financial in 2000 when he started his turkey operation. His 40-acre purchase came to be home to a poultry operation that houses some 15,400 birds. Cattle were later added to the enterprise.
Lavern appreciates working with the cooperative and its employees because they “take care of me,” as he puts it. “From 2000 to 2017, that’s the only place I’ve ever (gone to for lending needs).”
“A business is only as good as its people,” David adds, “and in this business I can’t say enough good about FCS and Roger (Ash). He’s bent over backwards. He’s a man of exceptional integrity.”
Roger adds that working with the folks at Eagle Ridge has been simply a great relationship. Together, they’ve learned the ins and outs of the shavings business.
Where credit is due
Starting a business from the ground up can be challenging, and both Lavern and David are quick to credit their faith for helping them succeed.
“God’s been good,” Lavern says. “We’ve had our slow times, but as the fall and winter comes on, it calls for more bedding.”
Through it all, Eagle Ridge Shavings is grounded by honesty. “That’s the number one key,” Lavern says. “In the bulk business, it’s very easy to tell somebody that they’re getting 150 yards when really they’re not getting 150 yards. (Honesty) is a reputation I want to keep. When Eagle Ridge sells you a yard, you’re getting a yard.”
Keeping a consistent product at an affordable price has been crucial to the operation’s success as well as putting together a good team of employees.
“We’ve got a very good team with a good work ethic,” Lavern credits. “They just care about what they’re doing.”
It’s that care for producing a quality product and a genuine love of agriculture that sets the Eagle Ridge Team apart. Rooted in their faith and grounded by true integrity, Eagle Ridge Shavings finds success one log at time.