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Nebraska Rancher Beefs Up Operation with Millermatic® Wire Welder

Loader buckets. Auger flighting. Cattle gates, panels, hinges and latches. Forage chopper teeth. Tractor frames. Hydraulic lines. Stock trailers. Game feeders. These are just a few of the projects to which Nebraska rancher and hunting outfitter Arlo Schurr has put his welders to use over the years.

Using his MIllermatic 250 wire welder, Arlo Schurr fabricated these feed bunks from scratch using old gasoline pipe.

These projects don’t even begin to touch on the number of gadgets, tools and other equipment he’s fabricated from scrap metal and other available parts. A handcart for removing hunted game. A ladder for accessing grain bins. A trailer for hauling his ATV. Skids for a water tank.  Like most farmers, Schurr has made a fine art out of improvisation and reincarnation, proving time and again the ingenuity of the American farmer.

Schurr runs a 4,200-acre Black Angus beef operation out of Eustis, Neb. He dedicates 1,600 acres to corn, wheat, milo, soybeans and alfalfa and reserves the other 2,800 for forage lands with Sudan and other types of grasses. The property is also home to his game farm, Great Nebraska Hunting, which offers deer, turkey, pheasant and quail. The beef operation calves out 340 to 350 head a year, keeping the replacement cattle and selling any extra stocker feeders each November. With numbers like that, the demands placed on his equipment, and thus his welders, can be pretty high.

With no shortage of repairs and other projects, Schurr continually found himself away from the fields and cattle and at his welding table. Those projects haven’t subsided, but the addition of a 250-amp Millermatic wire welder from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. enabled him to complete them more efficiently and dream up new ones previously impossible with his old Stick welder.

These game feeders were constructed from 55 gallon drums, some old sheet metal, tubing and well rods. They will be used to feed deer and pheasants.

“A wire welder is so much faster and easier to use, I can’t imagine going back to Stick welding,” Schurr said. “I really hate chipping slag, and with a wire welder all you have to do is adjust your settings and weld. I don’t have to stop to chip slag. I don’t run out of rod. I’m also able to weld much thinner material than I could with a Stick welder because of the welder’s infinite amperage and voltage control settings.”

Recently Schurr converted several old 55-gallon drums into game feeders using some old well rod from a livestock water system and some additional scrap sheet metal (see photo). He plans to put deer chow in one of the feeders and some cracked grain for pheasants in two others. Buying three similar game feeders would easily cost him upwards of $400, and building them with his Stick welder would have been difficult if not impossible without burning through the barrel walls.

A More Versatile Process

Wire welding consists of MIG (Metal Inert Gas) and flux cored welding, and both can be done with the same machine. The difference between the two processes is that MIG welding uses a solid wire with a shielding gas to protect the weld puddle from the air environment and flux cored uses a hollow wire filled with a flux compound that protects the weld from contamination. Without the gas or flux protection, porosity and weak welds result. Flux cored welding produces slag, similar to a Stick welder, but it is able to weld in any wind condition whereas winds above 10 mph will blow away the gas shielding in MIG welding.

Schurr’s brother-in-law, Lee Hueftle, built this seed tender by attaching a fifth wheel trailer frame to a truck frame and adding some axles a gravity box and an auger.

Wire welding differs from Stick welding in that it uses a spool of wire fed at a specified rate through a welding gun instead of a fixed-length electrode that requires frequent replacement. Instead of having to move your hands closer to the material as the electrode gets shorter, the gun remains at the same distance from the weld and the wire is continually fed through. The low voltage and amperage capabilities of a wire welder also allow it to weld much thinner materials without burning through. A good 250-amp MIG welder can weld material as thin as 22-gauge, yet weld 1/2-in. steel in a single pass.

Below is a brief comparison of the three processes and their relative advantages and drawbacks.

Stick

MIG

Flux Cored

Getting Unstuck From Stick

Schurr’s first exposure to wire welding came in high school and at Southeast Community College in Beatrice, Neb., where he took extra night courses on welding. He was sold on its benefits right off, but convincing his father, who operated the farm with him and had relied on a Stick welder his entire life, was another matter altogether.

“I had a hard time convincing dad how nice they are to have,” Schurr explained. “He thought, ‘well, we still have our old Stick welder and that works fine.’ And it did work, but then we got a wire welder and he realized how much faster it is, the better looking welds you can get and the additional materials it can handle.”

Schurr, accompanied by his dog, Tipper, built these ATV loading ramps out of 1 ½ in. square tubing and expanded metal.

Of course, one of the biggest obstacles to buying a wire welder, even for farmers aware of their benefits, is cost. Tight finances are about as predictable on a farm as warm summers and cold winters, so any purchases or equipment upgrades absolutely need to balance out in their value to the operation.

A high quality, farm suitable wire welder, such as a 250-amp Millermatic, can cost $1,800, or about $1,500 more than a typical “buzz box” Stick welder found at a farm supply store. But, says Schurr, a farmer with frequent or difficult repair needs—such as those that require sending the part to a repair shop—will soon recoup the added expense in terms of both time and money saved.

“A wire welder will quickly pay for itself between the time one saves in not having to wait for a repair shop to fit the repair into their schedule and in the cost of the repairs,” Schurr said. “Plus, at least with Miller, you’re also looking at quality and serviceability. Sometimes, with the products sold at farm supply stores, the quality isn’t there and getting parts can be difficult. I have a very good dealer here in town and getting parts has been a breeze.”

Miller products are only sold through welding distributors. Schurr, like many people, finds the expertise and continuing support of their distributors a major benefit that usually can’t be found in traditional farm equipment stores. Welding distributors are able to give advise on the appropriate wire to use for the specific application, amperage and voltage settings and can usually offer a few hard learned tips on getting a better weld.

This game cart, similar to those found at hunting stores, was made using standard one-inch square tubing, well rod for braces and wheels from a silage blower.

Schurr pairs his welder with .035-in. diameter ER70S-6 wire and C25 shielding gas. In his shop, the MIG function allows him to perform quicker and better welds than with his Stick welder. If needed, he can bring the machine out into the field for an onsite repair using flux cored welding.

For Schurr, the combined capabilities of his welder transformed farm welding from a task to be used simply for repairs on an as-needed basis to an integral part of his overall operation. It allows him to make quick repairs when needed, but it also gives him the ability to imagine and create new equipment that improves the efficiency and productivity of the farm.

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