The cow man has really become my niche market, compared to electric pivots, the T-L machine is a lot better suited for exposure to livestock.
After putting himself through college by installing and repairing electric center pivot systems, Jordan Whittaker actually thought about becoming a dealer for the company. “The idea was to generate a little more cash flow and diversify beyond ranching,” he recalls.
“Then I realized, if I did that, my dad wouldn’t even buy one from me because he likes T-L systems so much better.” Instead, the 27 year old contacted T-L Irrigation and became a dealer for hydraulically driven pivot systems.
Operating as Two Dot Irrigation and Supply, Jordan and his wife, Susan, have already sold and installed nine units near their home in Leadore, Idaho. Plus, they have another five units scheduled for installation this fall in Idaho’s Lemhi Valley.
However, center pivot sales only account for a portion of their time. The couple have also joined Jordan’s parents, James and Paula Whittaker, in the operation of Two Dot Ranch.
Jordan’s brother, Chase, is also involved on the ranch, particularly during the summer when he’s not attending college. Just seven years short of its 100th anniversary, Two Dot Ranch was first established by Jordan’s great grandfather.
Since then, however, the ranch has grown to incorporate approximately 18,000 acres and 2,000 head of Angus/ Salers cross cows that are supported by high mountain pastures and a network of irrigated hay fields.
“So far, our sales of T-L systems have only come through word of mouth advertising,” Jordan relates. “We had thought we might be able to sell four or five units a year. Instead, it’s been 14 in the first year alone.
The people who buy them like them so well they keep talking about them to everyone else.” As the owners of nine T-L units, including one new 1,500-foot unit installed this past spring, the Whittakers have plenty to say themselves.
It was only by accident that the family learned the benefits of a hydraulically driven unit in the first place. “We already had a few electric center pivot units on the ranch when we bought a used T-L unit from the southern part of the state,” Jordan explains.
“That was in 1992, and the system was already nearly ten years old then. Anyway, we tore it down, moved it up here, put it back together, flipped the switch and it took right off. “Most of our electric pivots were used when we bought them, too, but that had never happened with one of them.” He continues, “It was more like flip the switch and then hunt for problems and start replacing switches.”
“We’ve also spent several hundred dollars having technicians come out and make repairs on the electric units,” James adds. “Our ranch is a good two hours from the nearest dealer, so service calls don’t come cheap.”
All total, approximately 2,200 acres of the Two Dot Ranch are now under center pivot irrigation, while another several hundred acres of pastures and fields are still flood irrigated. Except for a few fields of barley and peas, which are also grown for feed, all of the irrigated ground is in grass hay.
“We only have about 45 frost free days a year, so we really can’t grow anything but grass and feed crops,” Jordan explains. “Our last snow this season was about two weeks before the fourth of July.” Susan adds, noting that the ranch ranges from 6,800 to 7,100 feet in elevation. “But we still turn on the pivots in May, even though we often have to turn them off at night, when it gets too cold.”
Around July, the hay is harvested the one time for the season and put up in big square bales that are used to feed the herd during spring calving. The only other time the hay fields are used is during the fall and early winter when cattle are brought down from the summer ranges to graze on the regrowth.
Ironically, because beef is their only cash crop, the Whittakers have discovered a few other advantages to a T-L system. “The T-L is a great pivot for the cattleman for several reasons,” says James, who learned the ranching business from his own father and grandfather. “It’s a lot more labor friendly and requires a lot less maintenance.
Even if something does go wrong, we’ve been able to figure it out ourselves without having to bring somebody in from 120 miles away. But the other thing is the T-L systems don’t have an exposed driveline that can wrap up grass or that the cattle can use for a back rub.”
“The cow man has really become my niche market,” Jordan adds. “Compared to electric pivots, the T-L machine is a lot better suited for exposure to livestock. Every year, we end up replacing switches and wiring that the cattle have torn loose on the electric pivots,” he continues.
“I’ve also seen them pull the drive lines apart and break the motor brackets off while scratching their backs. With the T-L pivots, everything is protected. As a result, start-up usually consists of changing the hydraulic filters and turning them on.”
Even more impressive, says Jordan, is the fact that one of the T-L pivots is nearly as old as he is and still going. “In fact, seven of the nine T-L pivots on the ranch are more than 20 years old,” he relates. “Yet, they still have at least 90 percent or more of their original components.”
As if they needed any more reasons to prefer T-L pivots over electric versions, Jordan explains that T-L models can operate on single phase power lines instead of the three phase lines. “The power company won’t run threephase lines into very many areas, and they’ve stopped allowing any phase conversions,” says Jordan.
“So the only alternative would be to power the unit with a diesel engine; and it doesn’t make much sense to add that maintenance on top of an electric unit.” As it is, Jordan says it only costs the ranch around $200 to $250 per pivot per year for irrigation. That’s because all the pivots are gravity pressurized through a minimum of 100 feet of slope from the water source.
“We get plenty of snow up in the mountains; but through the year, we only get around eight to 12 inches of rain,” he concludes. “So if we don’t irrigate, we don’t have a hay crop.”