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New parts, new life for poultry bins

Brothers Gerald and Nelson Zimmerman repair old poultry bins out of their one-bay garage outside Schaefferstown, Pa.

Drive along busy Route 501 outside Schaefferstown, Pa., and you’d be hard-pressed to miss the line of brand-new and refurbished poultry feed bins lined up just south of town.

It’s the work of Gerald and Nelson Zimmerman, owners of Swatara Builders Grain Bins. It’s a busy time of year for the brothers. They build and refurbish feed bins — 6 feet to 12 feet — in a one-bay shop that looks like a typical car repair garage.

They’ve been at their current location for three years, but have been in business together for 25 years. Much of their work is subcontracted to them by local farm equipment suppliers such as Farmer Boy Ag and Automatic Farm Systems.

But they also repair older poultry bins they buy from farms and resell them. And business is picking up, especially with the increase in the number of broiler houses in the area. They’ve also gotten business from as far away as Kentucky.

"We've seen a little bit. It seems we get a lot more work now than we used to do," Gerald says. “They come in spells a lot. It's seasonal sometimes, but it's steady work, picking up.”

On a recent day, Gerald and one of his employees, Vernon Newswanger, were busy taking apart a used poultry bin they picked up from a local farm.

The goal: Replace all the bolts and any pieces that are rusted, install a new ladder and get it ready to be resold.

Gerald and Vernon work in tandem — Gerald on the outside taking out the bolts using a drill while Vernon is inside holding the opposite end of the bolt, so Gerald can take the bolts out.

It’ll take several hours to get the job done, between taking the old bolts outs and installing new ones, and then replacing any rusted parts. They use a system of homemade dollies to spin the bin in place so they can work on each side.

Once the bin is done, they turn their attention to a brand-new bin that’s been subcontracted to them by Farmer Boy Ag. These can take as little as four hours to put together, Gerald says, as all the parts are provided by the company. All he has to do is put everything together, kind of like a puzzle.

Most of the work they do are the smaller poultry bins, but they can do larger grain bins, too, up to a maximum of 40 feet in diameter, nine rings high.

Gerald is a small-scale farmer on the side. He owns a few acres and rents much more, and raises a handful of cattle.

See their work by clicking on the slideshow.

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