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Story #17Solar FeedersFort Smith, AR

If you feel passionate about it and you know you’re the best, take a shot. Do it; but you can’t do it halfway.

Farmers are among the hardest-working people in the country, but many smaller, family farms struggle to make ends meet. Many of the stories are the same – they have inherited the family land, working hard to make a living, yet still having to take a second job to support themselves and keep the land.

Long hours on the farm coupled with more hours in another job make it nearly impossible for some farmers to feed their livestock, traditionally a time- and labor-intensive process. Enter Andy Galbach, the man with an answer in the form of his solar-powered livestock feeders, Solar Feeders. These innovative, state-of-the-art machines represent a true paradigm shift in agriculture.

The concept is surprisingly simple: Charged by a solar panel, the machine weighs and dispenses feed, automatically releasing the food at specific times throughout the day, pre-set by the farmer. This ingenious, but simple machine, Solar Feeders saves farmers hours each day by not having to weigh, sort, haul and dispense feed to their animals.

His foray into agriculture was a simple process too. Eight years ago, Galbach attended a trade show in Dallas to promote his sheet metal business. While at his booth selling his goods to potential customers, Hugh Wayman, an 87-year-old inventor from Oklahoma City approached Galbach. His first words were: “I need a sheet metal shop.” Wayman then confided that he had invented an automatic livestock feeder with a patented design, but he didn’t have the resources or knowledge to manufacture the device on a large scale.

In the parking lot, Wayman showed Galbach his prototype, which he had hauled to the trade show behind his truck. Galbach immediately saw the potential in Wayman’s innovation, and the two men sealed the deal on the spot with a handshake.

An entrepreneur at heart, Galbach dropped out of high school because it was “moving at a really slow pace.” He found employment at a sheet metal company, where he stayed for eight years until Galbach’s employers heard he might want to open his own shop. They fired him on the spot. Undaunted, Galbach secured a bank loan and opened his own sheet metal business at age 29. He built a strong business over the years, and when he met Wayman, Galbach had the facilities and manpower to turn an ingenious design into the game changer.

Galbach eventually purchased the patent at Wayman’s request, re-engineered the feeders for wider production, and promised his friend and partner that he would fulfill his vision of helping small, family-run farms. He then went to work marketing Solar Feeders across the country, and the hard work is starting to pay off.

“[Farmers] just do the math in their head and realized they’re cutting a lot of labor, a lot of wasted feed, and a lot of time out by using an automatic livestock feeder.” To keep up with demand, Galbach now employs 44 full-time employees. 

He’s dedicated to keeping the “Made in America” stamp on his feeders, all of which go from sheet metal to finished product at his workshop in Fort Smith. Most of all, he’s committed to his word – a promise made to a special friend. “Hugh is the most wonderful man I’ve ever met in my life. It’s been five years with these feeders, and we’ve been through some ups and downs. But I’m not going to let it go, because I promised him, and right now it’s really taking off. We’ve done really well.” Not bad for a business that started with a handshake in a parking lot.

Photos by Shaul Schwarz

  • Solar Feeder customers are already boasting about finally being able to take a vacation thanks to their new technology. Looking to the future, the sky is the limit for Andy Galbach, as he seeks to sell the product overseas and help farmers around the world.

  • The mobile Solar Feeders are powered by a solar panel, which starts the motor and then weighs and dispenses the feed at specific times – freeing farmers from the constant burden of putting out feed

  • Solar Feeders owner, Andy Galbach, has been traversing the U.S. for the past five years, putting in the legwork to market the feeding machines. “Most people just absolutely love it.”

  • Many farmers must maintain other jobs to support their families and keep their land. Solar Feeders is committed to easing the workload.

  • “It’s an American product, built in America, for America.”

  • Community is priority to Solar Feeders. “It’s important, we do try and stay involved here.”

  • Andy Galbach's sheet metal and Solar Feeder workshop employs 44 people in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

  • To Andy Galbach, his staff is his family. “My wife and I don’t have any kids, so the people that work for me are my guys.”

  • Transforming the feeders from old-fashioned hand manufacturing to a more modern cut takes nearly 20 hours of manufacturing time.

  • Sparks fly in the Solar Feeders workshop.

Q & A

 

We escaped the flying sparks and noise of the workshop to sit down with Andy Galbach in his office for a coffee and a chat.

Do you feel like you are helping the farming world?

Yeah, nowadays a lot of people have remote farms. They’ve got day jobs. They went to college, and then their parents passed away, and they inherit their farm. Sometimes it’s 20 to 50 miles away from their home, so they find it very difficult to feed their animals every single day. So, to help them with their day, this feeder is just dynamite.

How much have things changed for you in the last 10 years, with new technology?

Today’s modern age has changed so much. Between my sheet metal shop and Solar Feeders, I’m basically glued to my phone. From the moment I wake up, I’m checking emails, texts. I’ve got reports and financials that I look at. Now, we’re looking at our long-term plan for Solar Feeders. We’re developing our website, and it’s going really well. We’re trying to add things like photographs and testimonials from customers.

What does the future look like for Solar Feeders?

The positive impact on farmers is going to be huge. We want to keep making them here. When things are built overseas there are a lot of errors. It’s an American product, built in America for America… right now. But these problems are being faced everywhere. I think it’s going to go all over the world before long.

How important is a sense of community in what you do?

I love my community. My wife and I don’t have any children, so we do try to stay involved here. We’re members of the local country club. I’m a member of the Solid Waste Management Board, and my wife’s been on Humane Society. I’m a provider of jobs, for sure. I employ about 40 people here in Fort Smith and I’m proud of it. You know, we don’t have any children so the people that work for me are my guys – my kids – and I’m into their families quite a bit.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of taking the leap to go out on their own?

I tell people to chase their dreams. I hope everyone gets an opportunity to do what they love like me. I think back to that day when I got fired. That’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me. If you can take the chance without hurting your family, do it. If you feel passionate about it and you know you’re the best, take a shot. Do it, but you can’t do it halfway. My first 10 years of this business I worked 20 hours a day. You can’t just quit what you’re doing, thinking you’re going to get off with a part-time job. I mean, it’s not going to happen. Nineteen years into this business, I still work 8-12 hours a day. I enjoy it.

Business Details

4401 Savannah St. Fort Smith, AR 72903
PH: 855-646-7123 / Website
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