Once in a long while, when the sun sits at just the right angle and ice crystals form in just the right shape high in wispy cirrus clouds, a sundog - a bright arc of reflected light suddenly shows up on one or both sides of the sun. Since ancient times, drought weary farmers have celebrated sundogs, knowing their appearance usually means rain or snow is on its way. Sundog Solar, Alberta's first 100% North American-made ag solar product specialist, likewise signals a change for the better.
"Everywhere in the world, there's either too much water or not enough of it. In any location, no matter how remote, we can pup water in or out using solar power. It's amazing technology," says Marvin Jackson, Sundog Solar's founder and owner.
Over the past 17 years, Sundog has developed a comprehensive line of portable solar water systems that align innovation and high technology with sustainability and animal welfare. Today, Sundog Solar offers everything from geo thermal water tanks to solar de-watering. The biggest portion of their business, however, is portable, remote livestock watering, possible all 12 months of the year.
"It used to be you'd need to graze your cattle near a natural water source in spring, summer or fall and close to home so you could pump water for them using electricity during the winter. Solar technology has totally changed what's possible. Even in the most extreme winter weather, we can now water hundreds of cattle in remote locations. And our units are totally user friendly: anyone-even someone with no technical expertise- can easily move them, and maintenance is maybe 15 minutes per year" says Jackson.
Consort area cow calf producer, Matthew Gould , says three Sundog portable watering systems in operation on his farm have increased feeding options.
"Definetly the biggest benefit is in the winter. Now we can change our winter feeding site on a regular basis: we just move the cows to the feed instead of moving the feed to the cows. If we have a field 20 miles from home that gets hailed out, we'll just pile the silage on the field and feed it right there. That's only possible because we can put water wherever we want it. Anyone can hook up the drag and drink system and move it. And it makes it that much better that the system that works awesome in the winter, does what we need for summer too."
Jackson says his products biggest selling point comes down to dollars and cents.
"This technology increases your profitability. Clean and plentiful water is yur cheapest gain." he says. :Our technology means cattle suffer far less disease and way, way less hoof rot compared to animals drinking from muddy-banked streams".
A portable system watering 1000 yearlings, he says , will pay for itself halfway through the second season due to increased rate of gain, not including decreased disease, less labor, improved dugout health, and numerous other side benefits.
Stationary water sites also extend access to water in drought.
"Instead of giving cattle open access to water which they will damage, destroy or dirty, our waterers give access to good quality water in drought condition, our producers get four to six weeks more of water out of the same sites." Jackson says.
Solar pumping can do more than one might guess.
"People always want to know how much capability solar really has. Let me put it this way, show us where you want the water and we'll figure out a way to get it there." says Jackson.
Sundog Solar has designed and installed sytems that lift 10 gallons / minute more than 400 vertical feet. In other cases, they've moved water more than three miles in a horizontal run, providing enough water for 300 cow/calf pairs . And the company regularly installs units capable of watering 1000 or more head in a summer or 500 through the coldest months of winter.
Sundog Solar is the only agricultural solar supplier that manufactures all of their products themselves. They offer a comprehensive line of pumping components including, most recently, a new four inch submersible solar pump. This newest technology is unique in that it does not need an external controller, which eliminates the need for a cicuit board, and makes the pump interchangeable with all the systems.
"We can go head to head with the largest manufactures in the world in our pump class for quality, performance and price," Jackson says about his products.
Sundog Solar prioritizes sustainability. While the word "sustainability" might be over used in some circles, it means alot in the context of solar power. Moving cattle away from waterways and out of riparian areas offers enormous environmental benefit, improves cattle health and welfare, and supports the beef industry's social license to operate. Several Sundog customers have won environmental stewardship awards because of their investmenht in Sundog technology.
"Basically, our technology helps make everyone involved happy." Jaskson says.
One of the biggest benefits Sundog offers is a combinations of both academic and real world understanding of livestock management. Both Jackson and his business partner (and wife) Barb, grew up on ranches near Sundre, Alberta. (Jackson is a fourth generation cattleman who grew up calving out 500 beef cows adn milking 40 dairy cows; Barb and her family raised beef cattle and registered Percheron horses). After high school, Jackson complemented his hands on experience with a degree in business finance and livestock production from Olds College, then started working for an ag solar company. Today, the two juggle Sundog Solars operations alongside their own beef cattle and quarter horse ranch.
"Because we've lived livestock our whole lives, we can put technology and the realities of farming together," says Jackson. "Definitely one of the biggest things that sets us apart is the fact that we really understand what livestock producers need."
While many of the designs are his own, Jackson gives enormous credit to the entire Sundog team. I started off with just me and my truck and tailgate. But I can't take the credit for where we are today. Our staff are amazing and committed. And, many producers have contributed by making suggestions along the way. Innovations happen when good minds work together."
Very sadly, one of those good minds - Sundog's pump research and development lead Eric Jensen - recently lost a short battle to cancer. Eric was a founder an d visionary in the solar water pumping industry. Many of Sundog Solar's pump designs can be credited to his creativity and design skill.
"Eric left a hole that is not easily filled," says Jackson. "He made a huge contribution to our team."
Looking forward, Jackson expects to continue in the solar powered field over the long haul.
"We're committed to reinvesting in agriculture. We're always working on new and exciting innovations that will add to our product line. We see ourselves as partners in this industry: it's up to all of us to keep improving how we raise livestock."
For more information about Sundog Solar products, check out their website to get in contact with a dealer near you.