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0408 FG: Hay storage and transport

Brad Nelson Published on 15 August 2008

Expect each new year in the hay business to be either a short hay year or a long hay year.

There is no such thing as a “normal” hay year. One of my friends told of an experience he had during one of the “long” hay years. (Each year has either 365 or 366 days. The “long” and “short” hay years I am referring to pertain to the supply of hay. There is either too much for the market demand or too little. Never a balance. Yet.)

My friend was loaded and headed west with a load of hay destined for one of the feed stores he serviced in western Washington State. A pick-up truck passed him, then slowed down and blocked the road by driving all over both lanes as he tried to pass the pickup. He eventually stopped and wondered what kind of a mess this was going to be.

The driver of the pick-up was a hay grower who actually begged my friend to come and look at his hay and see if there was any way he could market even part of it.

He explained to the grower that he had been dealing with the same group of hay growers for many years. Those growers, he explained, took care of him in the same manner when hay was scarce as they did when hay was long in supply.

He could count on them to hold the hay he needed; and they trusted him to be there and market their hay when there was a surplus of hay.

The best he could do for the fellow who had literally “ran him down” on the highway was to get his name and phone number and call him should his regular growers not be able to meet his needs.

How and why does this arrangement work? Let’s go first to the old statement that “nothing happens until someone buys something”. This gets the ball rolling. The “someone” in this equation is the owner of the pet horse who patronizes the feed store that the load of hay is going to.

The horse owner will buy one bale or many bales of hay at a time. They generally will look closely at each bale and expect total perfection. As a truck headed for a feed store was loading, the hay hauler told me that he had just rejected a bale that looked like it may have a small wet slug of hay in it.

“If I load that bale on this load going to this feed store, I may as well go fetch the pistol and shoot myself in the foot. That bale will eventually end up back at the feed store and the owner of the feed store is going to want me to take it back and refund him his money. No one buying hay from a feed store that supplies hay to the owners of pet horses is going take less than a perfect bale.”

He went on to explain that he did not buy a whole stack when he bought hay from his growers. He bought the perfect bales. He explained that he felt he paid a premium for the hay and the growers understood that he just could not use bales with any kind of a blemish on them.

In addition to paying a premium for perfect hay he also paid for the tarping. He has the hay he buys fully wrapped with hay tarps by one of the professional hay tarping companies in the area.

The grower is expected to produce some kind of a stack yard that is elevated to protect the bottom layer of bales from moisture and dirt. The growers understand the market this hay hauler has and finds other homes for the “mistakes” that cannot go to the feed stores.

Years back when yours truly was delivering a load of hay to a dairy on the Oregon coast my helper made the comment that whoever laid out the driveway from the road to the hay barns had never seen a hay truck in his life. I told him that he was correct.

When the particular dairy we were delivering to was built, the hay was delivered in wagons drawn by horses and mules. Some of the hay storage facilities we loaded from seemed to have been designed also by someone who had never seen a hay truck. Let me list a few items that can drive hay haulers crazy.

Segregation is good as it pertains to haystacks. Hay that is stored in sheds, or even in open stacks that is mixed cuttings or mixed quality make loading miserable. Most hay haulers consider that a mixed stack is worth only as much as the worst bale in it is worth.

Uniform bales, or the total lack thereof. I once arrived at a stack to load 2-tie alfalfa bales and found the bales to be over six feet long. The time was a half-hour from “0-dark-30” and I was two-hundred miles from home. I also had a 24-hour weigh station to go through on the way home. I had never seen the hay before.

The fellow I was hauling for just said that it was nice hay. We ended up stacking the hay in a herringbone pattern on the truck. I also wrote down the grower’s name and location in my “do not return” book. Another stack began with the 2-tie bales being about 38 inches long. Stacked with a rail bale down alternate sides of the load, 38-inch bales make a nice load.

Before we had the first truck loaded the length had grown to over 46 inches. We could start over and re-stack everything or hope for the best. The nice man from the state of Oregon gave me a piece of paper to sign that I could redeem for only $96.00 in 1982 dollars.

At least he did not make me “get legal” before I could move on. “Of equal weight” is as big a part of uniformity as is bale length. If three balers are running at the same time and two are making 90-pound bales and the third is making 60-pound bales there is going to be a problem.

The heavy bales are going to crush the lighter bales in the stack. This is going to make the haystack lean or fall over. This can happen after the hay is stacked on the truck moving it to market.

Logistics of loading. Get an understanding of the amount of space a hay truck needs to get in the driveway and close to the haystack. Hay trucks don’t do well having to go through snowdrifts or mud. The rejected bales from previous loads and things lying around the yard that make the air leave the truck tires are other problems.

Hay trucks loaded to 14 feet tall do not do well on roadways that are not even close to level. Low power or telephone lines should be raised. Please do not stack hay near or under high voltage power lines. There is no experience quite like having the hair on your arms stand straight up while you stack a whole load of hay directly under big power lines.

The climate for doing business. When the senior driver comes back from what should have been a normal day and states that we should never again have any reason to do business with those people, we have a problem. We also have a problem should a grower or end user of hay call and request that a particular truck or driver not come to their place again.

One young hay hauler mentioned that he started having people he had never heard of calling him and asking if he could haul them a load of hay from one particular grower.

They said the grower told them that if they wanted his hay that he was the only truck that was going to haul it to them. A few days later I ran into the grower and told him my curiosity was getting the best of me.

When I explained my question he told me what had happened. “The first two times that Dan loaded at my place were not pleasant. I had a stack leaning and then it started to rain before we got the truck back on the road. It took tire chains plus the biggest tractor I had to get the truck out of the field and on the pavement. That kid was pleasant through it all. When someone calls because an established customer has referred them to me I want them to have a good experience when they receive the load. To make that happen, I hand-pick the truck and driver if I can.” It made good sense to me.

Think ahead. This year most areas have record demand and record prices for almost all types of hay. Complacency and arrogance will come back to haunt anyone who feels that in a year like this year there is no reason to treat buyers and truckers as human beings.  FG