Always a Hay Day
Photo courtesy of Jim Ochterski
When it comes to buying good quality, reasonably priced hay, Mother Nature seems to have horse owners in a bind. A few heavy rains or one bad hailstorm can drastically affect availability and cost, let alone quality. Horsemen have resigned themselves to buying the best they can, when they can, realizing that no one can control the weather.
But try telling that to Jeff Warren. The South Florida financial planner couldn’t understand how farmers were going bankrupt when he was forking out $15 to $20 a bale to feed his daughter’s mount. After relocating to upstate New York, Warren decided to test out the agricultural industry himself. With 405 acres of rich soil and “all the latest and greatest equipment you could possibly find,” Warren set up a farming operation. Within a year, he’d been slapped with a harsh reality: when it rains, it pours, and usually only when you’re cutting.
Teaming up with a local farmer and businessman, Warren and his partner tried a new approach to haying that essentially removed weather from the equation. Instead of cutting and drying hay in the field, and then returning to bale, the entire process was lifted from the field and transported to a 120,000-square-foot indoor facility. The two designed a machine to cut and collect hay in one sweep, eliminating dust and mold, and allowing the plant to retain nutritional quality. The forage was then trucked to the plant and placed on a rack for uniform drying before baling. The result was the birth of Top Quality Hay Processors, a high-end hay company that boasts a four-hour window from first cut to baling.
Last fall, the company submitted an alfalfa sample to Dairy One, a forage testing laboratory in Ithaca, New York, for analysis. The sample was found to have 23.3 percent crude protein, almost double of what is found in a typical bale, according to Jim Ochterski, an agriculture extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“After looking at the numbers, one of our forage analysis specialists at Cornell said, ‘This is rocket fuel.’ It’s just that rich, that potent,” Ochterski says. “So it’s not something that you can substitute for [a horse’s] regular stuff. Their digestive system would recognize the feel of it, but the nutritional value [of the alfalfa sample] is much more potent than what most horse owners are used to feeding their horses. If you truly have a working horse—a cutting horse, a racehorse—they could tolerate the hay much better.” Now in their second year, Top Quality Hay Processors are further customizing with blends (such as Timothy-alfalfa or Orchard-alfalfa) and specialized bale sizes. The company also offers Timothy and grass hay, and can customize nutritional values by timing its cutting to different parts of the growing cycle. “When someone tells us they want a high-protein hay, we cut it early,” Warren says. “If they want 16 or 17 percent, we’ll cut it after it blossoms. It all depends on the use of the horse.” On average, the product sells for $410 a ton. It seems more expensive, but there’s no waste with this hay. the horse eats 100 percent,” Warren says. “The nutritional values help outweigh the cost.”
To view an analysis of TQHP's hay click here: Hay Analysis
Learn more about Top Quality Hay Processors at tqhp.com. Melissa Cassutt is a Western Horseman associate editor. Send comments on this story to email@example.com.