Hay Feeders for the iCC | Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
May 3, 2018

Hay Feeders Fit for an Elephant


Berlin Brothers Valley School creates proto-type for elephant hay feeders

Pittsburgh) (April 2018)—A school-required project led members of the Berlin Brothers Valley School District FFA program to develop an innovative way to provide hay to elephants at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s International Conservation Center (ICC). 

Students who participate in the Supervised Agriculture Experience program (SAE) are required to develop, design, and implement a project each year. Dan Miller who oversees the SAE students had recently toured the ICC and talked with Tom Bakke, ICC senior elephant keeper, on any possible projects for his students.

Bakke suggested elephant hay feeders. Miller talked with this students about the possibility of designing a hay feeder for the elephants at the International Conservation Center.  The students were excited to take on the project.

The students met with Bakke to find out what products and materials were needed. “I enjoyed meeting the kids and introducing them to the concept,” says Bakke. “They will learn what an elephant is capable off and then use that knowledge to find materials needed to create a hay-feeder that could withstand an elephant.”

The feeder had to be designed from a schedule 40 steel pipe, include a raise and lower mechanism to lift the hay, and the bucket needed to rotate 180 degrees so keepers could safely load hay. 

Construction began last November. It took several months to finish the first one.  “This was a huge project for them,” says Miller. “But they didn’t give up.”

The proto-type stands 21 feet tall with a 10 foot arm that extends into the elephant pasture. They also designed a way to fasten the feeder to the fence post at the ICC to keep it stable. 

The next challenge was designing a way to rotate the feeder. Materials in their initial design were too expensive, so the class explored other possibilities and found that an automobile wheel bearing had the same movement and was less expensive.  The students will be finishing up the project this spring. Unveiling of the proto-type will occur in May at the International Conservation Center.

“I am really proud of these kids,” says Miller. “They accepted the challenge and worked hard. They should be proud of themselves.”

“They have done an incredible job,” says Bakke. “I can’t wait to see how the elephants react.”