by Dave Pratt via Ranching for Profit Blog
Several years ago my son, Jack, spent a couple of summers working for one of our alumni in Wyoming. It just about killed me when he said, Dad, I love putting up hay! He said that driving the swather was like driving an Imperial Walker that the Dark Sides storm troopers used in Star Wars. (Im not sure how he knew what it was like to drive an Imperial Walker.) My son is probably the exception to the rule. For most of us, it doesnt take too many days putting up hay before we start thinking, There must be a better way.
That better way often involves selling the Imperial Walkers. Most ranchers dont have the economies of scale to justify owning their own hay equipment. Contracting with someone to put up the hay is often a more profitable option.
Some people resist contracting out their hay making. They insist that, Contractors never come when I need them or when they say they will come. That may be true. While the quality of your hay may suffer, the quality of your life and profitability of your ranch will likely improve. The convenience of owning your own equipment comes with a hefty price tag.
Some resist the contracting option insisting that there is no one in their area who contracts to put up hay. Of course that means that theres probably an opportunity to start a profitable contract hay making business. If you own the equipment it needs to get used whether its putting up your hay or someone elses.
You can avoid the contractor issue all together if you start calling those hay fields pastures and start harvesting them with four-legged combines rather than ones with four wheels. This is an especially attractive option if the margins in your cattle enterprises are high and turnover is your limiting factor. Strategies for reducing the hay needed in an operation have been discussed in previous ProfitTips. Whatever hay you need can be purchased from someone else.
If you think you cant afford to buy hay at todays prices, you are probably right. But remember, your cows have to buy all of the hay you feed them at market value, whether you grow it or not. If you grow it, you ought to be selling it to someone else because your cows probably cant afford it.
With high hay prices, growing hay may seem like an attractive option. Even with normal hay prices, the gross margin from hay enterprises often beats the gross margin from most cattle enterprises. However, cutting the hay out can free up our capital invested in equipment. It may drastically reduce your labor overheads and it can have a big, positive impact on the health of our land. The impact of these things may make harvesting hay with a four-legged combine an attractive option. Sorry Jack.
To view a short video of Ranching For Profit School alumnus Brad Radtke discussing the impact of converting hay fields to grazing on his ranch Click Here.