This Oregon rancher feeds cattle with remote-controlled electric horsepower.
Operating in a tight budget environment isn’t new to producers, but finding ways to cut energy costs can be difficult in this largely fuel-dependent industry. Manufacturers typically target mainstream consumers rather than farmers and ranchers with fuel-saving technologies leading some in the ag industry to create their own devices.
While searching for a fuel-efficient way to feed livestock, beef producer David Anderson of Haines, OR, called upon the skills of longtime friend, Ken Myers. Myers, who also resides in Haines, is a self-employed auto mechanic tottering on the edge of retirement.
Together the men created what Myers says may be the first remote-controlled, all-electric feed truck of its type in the world.
“It’s the latest and greatest thing for ag,” Myers says unabashedly.
F250 diesel goes electric
Anderson’s 1986 Ford F250 pickup truck, formerly diesel, now runs on 20 deep-cycle, lead-acid batteries located in two lockers beneath the truck’s flat bed. The 120-volt system, which works similar to the high-end electric cars currently on the consumer market, cost Anderson about $13,000, not including Myers’ time to do the conversion. But the savings, Anderson says, are realized in his day-to-day operations.
The truck, which they refer to as the electric “Henry,” takes about 35¢ to power up and will run approximately 50 miles on one charge. Anderson says that, compared to the 3 gals. of diesel (at almost $4/gal.) he had been using daily to do chores, the savings are adding up quickly.
Feeding cattle on Anderson’s ranch with Henry is now a one-man operation, saving Anderson the expense of hiring extra labor as he had to do previously. Anderson can start, steer, throttle and stop the truck with a hand-held, remote-control device from up to 500 ft. away. He can feed hay off the back while driving the truck with the remote. He can also honk the horn from the remote if cattle get bottlenecked in front of the rig. And, driving through gates no longer requires a second person to keep the cattle from running into the next pasture.
The Henry is also fitted with a power plug that’s magnetically attached to its headache rack so Anderson can run power tools without a negligible depletion in the truck’s electric charge. Anderson uses this feature to run an electric drill and chainsaw when working on fences, and his electric irons at branding time. He has even been known to throw a few steaks on a plug-in grill on the Henry’s flatbed.
As an added benefit, Anderson says during calving time, he can check the cows at night without disrupting them because the truck is so quiet. With the truck’s capability to run electric devices, he can also use a high-power spotlight, making it much easier to see a black cow on a dark night.
Should he decide to take Henry down the road, the vehicle will top out at about 50 mph.
“There are three things on the ranch that I wouldn’t want to do without,” Anderson says, “the backhoe, the four-wheeler and the electric pickup.”
What’s under the hood?
So what’s under the hood? Well, not much, compared to its combustion engine counterpart, but it’s enough to do the job of a piston-driven ranch truck.
To prove it, Myers staged a “pull off” between the electric and a Ford F250 diesel. The two trucks, pointed in opposite directions and attached from hitch to hitch by a chain, engaged in a tug of war. Both trucks are rated at about the same horsepower, with the diesel outweighing the electric by about 700 lbs.
The electric won the contest, dragging the diesel with its wheels spinning down the road. The difference, Myers says, is “that the diesel has to be driven up to about 2,000 rpms to develop its torque. The electric develops its torque right from the beginning.”
With the electric conversion, the Henry maintained its four-wheel drive transmission and clutch, and has a 40-hp motor. The beauty of the Henry, Myers says, is not so much in what it does have, but more in what it doesn’t have.
“Less noise, no pollution, and there’s really nothing to go wrong,” Myers says. “No pistons and rings, no water pump to replace, the only moving part is the armitron on the motor.” He says the Henry doesn’t even need time to warm up on chilly winter mornings, “no glow plug to wait for, you just hop in and go.”
Maintenance requires the monthly monitoring of water levels in the batteries, and checking for cable corrosion. Myers says the batteries should last about eight years. Although lithium batteries would work well on the feed truck, he doesn’t feel they are an affordable option, yet.
It took Anderson and Myers about a year, working in their spare time, to design, obtain parts and perform the work on the Henry conversion.
To date, Myers has converted several vehicles from gas to electric, including his 1965 Volkswagen Beetle, which boasts more than 100,000 miles on the electric system and is still going strong. However, the Henry is the first electric vehicle he has designed specifically for the ag community.
“We can’t wait for Detroit (vehicle manufacturers) to come up with these systems,” Myers says. “The technology is here, it’s doable and it’s affordable.”
The men are in the process of putting together a manual that will show how to convert a diesel or gas pickup to an electric with remote, as well as where to obtain parts. They hope to have it available for sale soon.
They’re also marketing a DVD that demonstrates the electric Henry and shows the pull-off they held with the F250 diesel. For more information or to purchase a copy of the manual or DVD, contact Anderson at 541-519-3030 or Myers at 541-519-7658.