By Karen R. Smith

May Supply Company
1775 Erickson Avenue
Harrisonburg, Va. 22801
Phone (540) 433-2611
Toll Free (800) 296-9997
Fax (540) 433-8838
[email protected]

Mike Heatwole, CWS VI, is Sales Manager at May Supply Company, which specializes in pipe, valves, fittings, pumps, water systems, fixtures, whirlpools, water treatment systems and even features a kitchen and bath showroom. In business since 1972, they carry an extensive inventory of plumbing and water system products. While much of their market is residential, Heatwole’s specialty isn’t.

With rare exception, most dealers have agricultural water users somewhere within their selling areas, but in general agricultural water treatment is a market sector many don’t think about, let alone focus on. Mike Heatwole knows he can change your mind about that!

He admits to having an ‘in’ since as a youngster he was a 4H Club member, but Heatwole notes that those who did not enjoy a rural upbringing can join organizations that will enable them to network with agricultural users. The National Future Farmers of America Organization (formerly FFA)  is one such group. “Go to state fairs, get involved with the local extension agencies, get out there and see who’s doing what and explain how you can help with their water.”

That strategy has most assuredly worked for Heatwole—today he is a member of the board of directors of two local extension agencies himself. When water quality issues arise, he’s the one who gets called. Word of mouth has become his primary source of new business. “I used to advertise, but I don’t have to any more,” he chuckled, adding that he never believed other people who told him that successful networking would produce that result.

As to why he promotes involvement in agricultural water for industry dealers, the reasons are varied. First and foremost, he notes the simple pleasure of working outside as compared with spending each and every day in a customer’s kitchen or utility room.
“Agricultural water is different. You sell very few straight softeners—mostly, what you see and deal with is problem water, with many specialized needs to be addressed,” he explained, adding that it is never, ever the same twice.

There are still very few water industry professionals providing services to this expanding market sector and there is significant need. Heatwole recommends getting WQA certified and notes that you may find farmers to be a bit cliquish at first, but as you become accepted and recognized, that will work to your advantage in recommendations.

Heatwole presented his views and experiences dealing with agricultural water at the EWQA annual conference and trade show in Scranton, Pa. last November. There was standing room only as he explained the opportunities and challenges.

Water is paramount for milk production, for example. Each dairy cow can drink 60 gallons or more per day and it must be clean and fresh at all times. “For dairy farmers, maintaining drinking water for the animals and keeping the equipment clean and contaminant-free is the main focus,” he stated, adding that today, “we want what we are raising to drink what we drink,” which is a very new concept. Farmers used to simply presume the animals would drink what was on site and not give it a second thought.

Cows, it should be noted, will drink chlorinated water—even with other choices like fresh streams and ponds. According to Heatwole, they don’t like more than two ppm of chlorine, but poultry thrive on as much as seven ppm which reduces mold spores and the like.

It takes experience to recommend the right equipment to farmers. With dairy cows, dealers must be sure to spec equipment large enough to handle peak flow, which includes drinking, washdown, cleanup and heating. “Of course, in addition, the equipment must be sized according to proper backwash and pump capacity,” he added.

Unlike most residential applications, dairies may also require softeners, iron filters, acid neutralizers, chemical feed pumps, dry pellet chlorinators, carbon filters, ozone and UV lights, according to Heatwole. Sulphur and manganese can contribute to scours, a bacterial disease afflicting newborn animals with debilitating diarrhea which can lead to death in as little as three days. Nitrates can combine with feed and contribute to the disease as well. “We go in and chlorinate the water,” Heatwole said, “and the scours problem is gone in three days. That’s vital—those calves, the future stock, can be worth many thousands of dollars.”

Nitrates cause cows to abort, he explained. Waste from backwash that is high in nitrates is a concern as a result. In chickens, nitrates lead to loose stools, which create wet litter, which leads to bronchial conditions up to and including pneumonia. “You can’t just test water for that, as nitrates have a cumulative effect on animals,” he cautions, adding that in dry years, nitrates rise in feeds, which must be tested as well if you are to treat the water effectively.

Poultry farming is vastly different and Heatwole notes that as a group, these farmers have been a hard sell. Poultry associations, colleges and universities may be your best entry into this very specialized area of agriculture. In many cases, owners may have operators and integrators running the facilities and all may have different ideas about water treatment—but with little knowledge or acquaintance with professional practices and the science involved. Yet they desperately need our services. “Up to 75 percent of a chicken’s body weight is water and the birds consume about twice as much water as feed when measured by weight,” he notes.

Dissolved oxygen, hardness, cool temperatures, a pH of 7.0, cleaning with bicarbonate are all good for poultry populations. Bad conditions for the birds include nitrates and nitrites, sodium, iron, manganese, hydrogen sulfide, potassium, phosphorus, copper and magnesium. Heatwole explained that when it comes to poultry farms, there is also the ‘ugly’ to look out for: bacteria, viruses, cysts, algae and mold spores.

On these farms, equipment will routinely include foggers. “Watch out for water lines feeding multiple buildings,” Heatwole cautions. “And find out where the wastewater goes!”
There are a wealth of opportunities in the poultry industry for water treatment providers, he explained. In addition to the actual farms, truck wash areas, poultry processing plants, breeder operations, hatcheries and feed mills all represent areas for a WQA-certified dealer’s knowledge and expertise.

Heatwole summed up his feelings about agricultural water treatment succinctly: “It’s fun, it’s different, it’s unique and it’s challenging—and there’s money to be made as few are doing it!” What’s not to like?


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