( article originally published in "The Country Today" on May 22, 2013)

Man turns frustration into invention for easing rotational grazing challenges

By Alyssa Waters

  

PEPIN – For much of his 58 years, Matthew Buvala has been trying to come up with ways to make life a little less difficult.

As a photographer for the U.S. Navy he came up with ways to improve equipment on the job. He made a roll negative carrier for a mini printer out of spare parts. He even worked out a system in his head for automatic focus in film cameras but was beat to the punch by industry big dogs.

When he retired from the Navy after a 20-year career and started raising chickens on his 17-acres of land in 2001, he began a love-hate relationship with the movable, woven electric fencing used to coral his feathered friends. Eight years later the idea came to him – a fence cart that would hold the fence, lay it out neatly and pick it up with a lot less hassle than trying to do it by hand. "I just figured there has got to be a better way of doing it than picking it up and moving it," Buvala said.

Buvala grew up on a dairy farm outside of Ashland. "I started helping out probably as soon as I could walk," Buvala joked. He loved the hard work and fresh air that came with farming. He never saw it as a chore, even as a youngster. When he retired from the Navy he went back to what he knew – farming and fixing.

 

BuvalaIn 2010, the rural Pepin man first sketched an idea for the cart and then began welding. The first one didn't work quite right, but it wasn't a total flop. It helped him get to where he is today. "It took six prototypes to come up with something that worked," he said.
"I would be up at 4 o'clock in the morning thinking about how this could work. It all has to do with the angles of the rods, the size of the wheels and the base. "I made incremental changes as I went along. You have to start somewhere. It's just a matter of making several prototypes and every time you improve on something."

After the cart was perfected, Pepin Farm Implements agreed to build the carts so Buvala could sell them. That meant Buvala had to start a business plan and come up with some money. Although Buvala admits that he's a better visionary than a businessman, he's learning a lot about the business end and has enlisted the help of those in business and finance for education. He never forgets why he started the business in the first place though. He wanted to help other local farmers dealing with the same fencing struggles. "The people who use this stuff know the frustration," he said. "It has to do with the weight of the netting – you need one hand to pick it up and one hand to hold it, and most people's hands aren't big enough to hold onto the netting and the posts."

 

Jennifer Lindahl and Chuck Peterson of Arkansaw know the struggle all too well. The couple, who owns Duskwind Farm consisting of goats, cows sheep and chickens, have had a long-standing debate on how the movable fence should be gathered and set up. They were the first to buy Buvala's cart. Lindahl used it for the first time on Saturday (May 11). "With these movable fences I am kind of a neat freak," Lindahl said. "I expect them to be rolled up after each use. My husband accordion folds them. It's a mess. "I always thought that if I could think of some way to move it (more easily) I would use it because it's such a pain in the butt."

Lindahl and Peterson have been using the rotational grazing method with their livestock for five years. Their animals mostly graze, which means with Peterson's help Lindahl moved the fencing every day. When the couple learned that Buvala had a cart that would make moving the fencing easier, Peterson bought it on the spot. "When I was putting the fence up on Saturday he was really nervous because I hadn't seen it before," Lindahl said. "He was a little nervous. He was standing back watching me. I'm like, 'I love it!' " Lindahl said normally each roll of the white polywire fencing is 100-feet long. A farmer would have to unroll the 100 feet – untangling as she went. With the cart, Lindahl said she can either walk with it or pull it behind a farm utility vehicle and the netting "just falls off the cart" in an orderly fashion. "The fencing is fragile and expensive," she said. "We just spent $500 on 300 feet ... so you want it to last and it's nice because all 300 feet that we just bought fits on there and it can be stored on the cart too."

Lindahl said Buvala is a humble man who doesn't like to boast about his new invention, but she said he should. "It's impressive that a local farmer came up with this (invention)," she said. "Imagine you're in July or August and the grass is up to your waist and you have to try to unroll that tangled fencing and stick it in the ground. It's such a pain. What (Buvala) has come up with is such a great thing. I love it."

 

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Waters is a freelance reporter from Lake Hallie.

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