Harry Hopkins is a fairly new (at time of writing) WFA member based in Nashville, Indiana. He has created a unique harvesting machine called the “Brockwood Worm Shi*fter”.
I found Harry’s story really interesting, and the harvester looks like a great tool for serious worm farmers – so I asked him if he would be interested in taking part in an interview.
He happily obliged.
Can you start by telling us about your background, and how it led you to create the Worm Shi*fter?
Ever since I was a little boy I have been “inventing” things, I have always been interested in how things are made and what makes them work. As a kid I used to take apart bikes, lawn mowers, sewing machines and anything mechanical.
When I was discharged I worked for a couple of years at US Steel as a motor inspector helper repairing all kinds of very large steel making equipment. It was a dirty dangerous job but it paid my tuition as I attended school.
I studied electronics at Valparaiso Institute of Technology and from there accepted a Field Engineering position with Honeywell in 1966. I worked on large mainframe computers equipment. This is where I learned many of the skills needed to design and build equipment.
I remained in computer sales and service in my own company from 1984 until the late 90’s.
In 1997 I invented the world’s first commercially available electric horse manure and bedding sifter. I recognized the need for an easier quicker way of cleaning stalls and built a prototype from material found around the farm. It was hand operated and consisted of a screen of 18 gauge, 1/2 inch woven stainless steel wire on a 18 gauge stainless “L” channel frame. I placed the frame on two broom handles laid across two sawhorses.
I had my wife shovel the manure and bedding onto the screen as I rolled it quickly back and forth across the broom handles. The sifting action worked so well I decided to motorize the shaking motion on a mobile frame.
The second prototype was a motorized 48 inch screen mounted in a sturdy frame on wheels that could be rolled from stall to stall. It worked even better and saved us so much in labor and sawdust cost that I decided to develop it further and bring it to market after filing for my patent protection.
We called the product the Brockwood Stall Shi*fter because the name of our farm was Brockwood. The word Shi*fter was registered as our trademark. It is a telescoping word made of two words easily recognized for what it does and what it does it to.
I created a new market that changed the way horse stalls get cleaned. We developed the machine over the past 18 years from a rather homebrew looking unit to the finely crafted piece of equipment it is today.
Interesting! Before we learn how you adapted your invention for worm farmers, can you tell us a little more about how the machine works to sift manure?
The most common stall bedding used today is saw chips or wood shavings. These products are costly and in some places scarce. Cleaning a horse stall with a manure fork is the time honored method of picking out the manure clumps. Unfortunately using the manure fork is time consuming tedious drudgery when done right and many smaller pieces of manure are missed. It takes about 20 minutes to clean a stall with a fine tine fork.
The palms down labor of shaking that fork so the bedding sifts through the tines and the manure stays on the fork causes tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome. When you use a Stall Shi*fter there is no shaking of the fork, you simply use a grain shovel and scoop up the bedding/manure mix and put it on the shaking screen of the Shi*fter. Palms down labor is converted to palms up labor and tennis elbow goes away.
The Shi*fter sifts out the sawdust or shavings and removes every other particle larger than a kernel of corn. The only bedding that is thrown out is the soaking wet bedding known as the pee spot.
The Stall Shi*fter effectively re-cycles up to 90% of the bedding reducing bedding cost by about 50%. Saw chips in manure compost sequester nitrogen. The less wood material in the manure compost the better the compost for your garden. To get a better idea of how a stall is cleaned go to my website http://www.brockwoodfarm.com and watch the videos.
OK – so how did you…uhhh…shift (sorry – couldn’t resist! lol) over to the realm of worm farming?
In early 2011 I received a call from Glenn, a worm farmer in Wisconsin. Glenn had been browsing the internet looking for electric sifters. He questioned me about the Stall Shi*fter extensively, never revealing to me what he wanted to use it for until about half an hour into the conversation. We decided that he would come down to Nashville, Indiana to see it in operation before deciding to buy one.
He came to my shop and we decided we could jointly develop a screen that would fit my existing frame and drive unit but would have the capability to make a three way separation of castings, cocoons and worms, each going into a different chute. After a few tries we had a good design that worked and I decided we could market them as a sifting product for another industry, vermiculture.
Sounds like a fantastic strategic partnership! Did you have any vermicomposting experience?
I am not a worm farmer nor do I intend to become one. I specialize in making the product that small to medium size worm farmers can use to make their jobs easier. All I know about worm farming I have learned from customers and worm farming blogs like WFA. I do consider myself a part of the vermiculture industry. The Worm Shi*fter is not a one size fits all solution to worm harvesting, it is designed to satisfy a part of the market that can use it effectively.
I depended on Glenn’s years of expertise to make sure the machine did what it needed to do. Glenn designed the original prototype screen and since then I have made significant changes to it that make it more reliable and easier on the worms.
We changed from using woven wire screening material to perforated aluminum of the required gauge and hole size. The aluminum is smoother than woven wire and doesn’t snag the worms as they pass over the top on their way to the worm chute. We also changed the chutes from sheet metal to vinyl to make the screen lighter and easier to handle and pack for shipment.
Is this a full-time venture for you, or something you do on the side?
The Stall Shi*fter and Worm Shi*fter is the only business I’m in today. It beats retirement and keeps me busy. My son-in-law and I handle the entire operation, he does all assembly and machining work as well as packaging and shipping. I handle the administrative end, sales and purchasing. I also work with him on design changes for improvements like the new quick insert screen panels we introduced three months ago.
Is the Shi*fter build using off the shelf components?
All of our metal hardware parts aside from standard nuts and bolts are specially designed for the Shi*fter. The steel parts are laser cut and formed then powder coated and baked for a long lasting enamel finish by a specialty metal craft company in Wabash, IN. The wooden motor compartment and screen carrier and frames are custom built and painted with a tough acrylic enamel at a woodworking shop a short distance from my facility. Axles and connecting rods are specially cut and threaded by another specialty shop here in Indiana.
Each machine is assembled and tested then packed for shipment right here in my shop. We usually have a machine ready to ship within 1 day of order acceptance. I have shipped machines all over the world and we have learned how to package them so they will arrive safely at their destination. We ship via UPS here in the US and use Air Cargo to ship to foreign countries. I have shipped to Australia, New Zealand, Puerto
Rico, Canada, England, Norway, Germany, Alaska and Hawaii. I get requests from all over the world for information and shipping costs.
As someone who is “all thumbs”, I find myself wondering how challenging is it for the customer to actually put this thing together?
The machines take about 45 minutes to assemble upon arrival and come with a fully illustrated owner’s manual with many pictures and numbered parts for easily understood assembly. I almost never get any calls questioning assembly steps which is an indication to me that the manual must be pretty good. I can send a copy of an assembly manual as an email attachment if someone wants to see one before purchasing or if they lost their manual.
Can you give us some idea of how fast this machine works and how it compares to other harvesters?
The hourly amount of vermicompost that can be sifter with the Worm Shi*fter varies depending on the quality of the vermicompost. I can only tell you the actual measurements taken using the UNCO bucket system. When comparing it to manual sifting with a hand held screen. It will cut harvest time by as much as 90% and can process up to 240 pounds of worms and 1000 pounds of castings per hour.
I don’t know how that compares to the large trammel machines used in large worm operations. I have read and have been told by trammel owners that the tumbling action of the trammel and the length of time the worms are being tumbled causes about a 15% loss rate due to shock. This is anecdotal of course.
The worms take a soft ride on a Worm Shi*fter screen and are not tumbled or bruised. They are on the screen about 20 seconds before drop of the end into the worm chute.
Thanks very much for taking part in this interview, Harry! Where can people go to learn more about the Brockwood Worm Shi*fter?
Thank you Bentley, I really hope WFA grows into what you have dreamed of and we can all grow our businesses together.
My website is www.wormsifter.com
Here is a video I created about the Shi*fter as well