Highway Helpers

This pair of Dakot beef producers found innovative ranch uses for item initially intended for the highway - old tires and guardrails.

Thinking outside the box nearly always has its rewards. And for these two beef producers, one from South Dakota and the other from North Dakota, a little ingenuity helped them devise effective and affordable uses for some unusual items. Their recycled renovations each have a unique role on the ranch — and a common tie to the auto industry.

Rubber Windbreaks

South Dakota Angus breeder Doug Stukel has found a new spin for tires. Stukel fashioned windbreaks from the top portions sliced off of mega-sized, heavy equipment tires. The deeper bottom part of the tire is typically destined to be used as a water tank.

Stukel stood two rows of about 10 to 12 of the leftover tire tops back-to-back along a 3-ft. — deep trench to create a 9-ft. tall, 500-yard-long windbreak. To stabilize the structure, dirt was filled in to the bottom rim of the tires and lag screws were used to secure the rows of tires to each other.

Stukel raises purebred Angus and bison with his wife Sandy and their three children at their ranch along the Missouri River breaks in south central South Dakota. He says the idea came from a tire tank salesman who shared photos of a similar tire windbreak constructed by another producer.

Today, Stukel has assembled a half dozen of the unique windbreaks in his backgrounding lots. Over the years, the tire windbreaks have provided protection for calves, yearling bulls and even the bison, and Stukel describes them as low maintenance and indestructible. “Nothing can hurt these windbreaks. I wouldn't change anything about them,” he says.

Guardrail Corrals

Galvanized guardrails that are commonly found along steep-sided highways have found a new niche as heavy-duty fencing material in livestock facilities. The curved, smooth surface of the recycled rails can be cattle-friendly, yet very durable. Thus, guardrails are becoming popular for corrals and alleyways.

At the Schaff Angus Valley ranch near St. Anthony, ND, guardrails were used to construct the entire feedlot area about 10 years ago. Kelly Schaff, who currently runs the operation with his wife Martie and their two daughters, says, “This is a fourth-generation family farm, and in that time we've had nearly every kind of fence. We liked the guardrail material because once you put it up there is no upkeep, and it is in place for a lifetime.”

He adds, “Because we are a seedstock operation, it's important to keep cattle in separate groups for record-keeping purposes, and when you raise bulls, it's also critical that they respect fences.” Because of those factors, the Schaffs opted for the sturdy, long-lasting rails.

Schaff credits his father Martin, who is now retired, for masterminding the guardrail facility on their ranch. Three rows of guardrail, spaced about 5 in. apart, were bolted to round wooden posts to construct the stout fence.

They bought the guardrail material through advertisements they saw in area farm newspapers. “It's usually priced per foot delivered. We've gotten some from the Midwest, and some from as far away as Virginia. For the most part, it is always good quality,” Schaff reports.

Over the past decade, they've been happy with the fencing and have found it requires no repair. Schaff does caution that, if using the guardrail in crowd pens or alleys, be certain that the smooth side faces the cattle. “The other side can have sharp edges, and you don't want that in places where cattle will be ram-rodding up against it,” he says.

The Schaffs have also used a wider guardrail to create windbreaks in their feedlot. The metal panels are attached to telephone poles and stacked up to 30 feet high to provide some serious wind protection. They've been pleased with that indestructible innovation as well.

All total, Schaff says, “The guardrails are nothing fancy, but if they are put up well, they look attractive, and they function very, very well.”

Kindra Gordon is a former BEEF managing editor who is now a freelance writer based in Spearfish, SD.