Every year, 20 horses bolt out of the paddocks at the Kentucky Derby, vying for the coveted rose garland. And every year, at least a third of those horses have grazed and galloped on grass mowed and maintained by Hillenmeyer Landscape Services.
“In any given year, up to half of the Derby horses have some connection with a farm we are associated with or take care of,” said Chase Hillenmeyer, president Hillenmeyer Landscape Services. “We’ve had a few winners on farms we’ve maintained.”
Hillenmeyer, a sixth-generation family commercial landscaping operation, received its first contract for equine maintenance in the 90s. “That’s the biggest thing we do today,” said Hillenmeyer. “Our niche is maintaining horse farms in central Kentucky.”
With properties ranging from 400 acres to a sprawling 2,500 acres, equine maintenance is a constant job during peak season. Hillenmeyer and his crew of 275 provide two types of mowing services for horse farms: common mowing, which is conventional grass cutting with a 60-inch ZTR mower around houses, barns, and roadways; and field mowing, accomplished with a tractor and a 20-foot batwing application for mowing fields and paddocks. They also string trim fence lines, with one contract boasting 85-miles of fencing, and offer services such as mulching, edging and tree trimming.
Keeping Up In Kentucky
Keeping the fields of central Kentucky’s horse farms maintained takes quite a few lawnmowers so Hillenmeyer runs a little more than 100 units. In the past few years, though, the crew started to encounter problems with its engine manufacturer.
“We were seeing a large number of engines blowing prematurely in the 1,000 to 1,500-hour range,” said Hillenmeyer, “This caused us significant production problems, management problems, and customer problems.”
“There was a period of time… when we were constantly dealing with down equipment, retooling crews, and working with two half crews instead of a whole crew because mowers weren’t working,” said Hillenmeyer. The crew wasn’t able to complete jobs on time, and everyone was feeling the burden of unreliable equipment.
On top of the performance issues, Hillenmeyer found a lack of accountability on the engine manufacturer’s part, as well as the mower manufacturer that spec’d the engines. “You can have product failure, but you can’t have service failure — they had both,” said Hillenmeyer. So he decided to make a change.
In the past, Hillenmeyer had purchased some units spec’d with Vanguard® engines. “We looked at our fleet and saw that the engines with a Vanguard sticker on them lasted a lot longer than the ones without Vanguard stickers,” said Hillenmeyer. With that in mind and looking for alignment among his engine and mower manufacturer, Hillenmeyer and his team reached out to Briggs & Stratton to see what it could offer.
Hillenmeyer quickly discovered that Vanguard engines not only offered the performance he was looking for, but an opportunity to work with manufacturers already in harmony with one another. “The chain of alignment among the Ferris® mowers and Vanguard engine teams and our local distributor really caught our attention,” he said. “When we spoke with them, they heard our challenges with previous manufacturers who didn’t work well together and showed us how that wouldn’t be a problem if we went with Vanguard engines.”
A factory tour of the engine manufacturing facility in Auburn, AL, solidified that assertion. “We were blown away by watching the Vanguard production team and the quality controls they used. It gave us a lot of confidence,” commented Hillenmeyer.
The final selling point came down to maintenance. The BIG BLOCK™ V-Twin engine line he was eyeing to spec on the new Ferris mowers came equipped with Vanguard’s innovative Oil Guard™ system. “We saw that Oil Guard would help us reduce our time spent on oil maintenance and therefore maintenance cost,” said Hillenmeyer, “Not to mention the larger oil reservoir that offers a little more margin of error on an engine blowing.”
A New Season
Ultimately, Hillenmeyer and his team replaced 35 units — about a third of its fleet — with Ferris mowers equipped with Vanguard engines. The new engines tackled the 2017-18 season with the reliability Hillenmeyer needed. “If the mowers aren’t working, that causes pain all the way down the line. Uptime is key, and the Vanguard engines have certainly provided that,” he said.
Now, the Hillenmeyer crew is back to cutting the horse pastures of central Kentucky. And while it can’t be known if this service has anything to do with determining Derby winners, Hillenmeyer has a theory. “Let’s just say we do our job so well that the owners can focus… more attention on the horses.”