A team of university marketing students recently suggested that Steve Rader should change the name of his fermented alfalfa product from Chaffhaye to AlphaHaye to more accurately reflect its quality.

“If I was starting over, I may have looked at a different name,” admits the president and CEO of Chaffhaye, Inc., Dell City, TX.

But the name apparently hasn’t hurt sales, which Rader says increased by 70% last year and are on track for 40% growth in 2012. He has kept Chaffhaye prices flat while alfalfa hay prices have increased dramatically, but says that only partially explains the fast growth.

“Even when hay prices were fairly low four or five years ago, we were still able to increase sales by 20-30% a year,” he claims.

Rader attributes the gains mostly to the product’s carefully controlled production process, which results in high quality and palatability. Alfalfa is cut at bud stage, field-dried to 50-55% moisture, chopped and brought into the plant, where it’s lightly misted with molasses to aid fermentation. Then it’s compressed into 50-lb bales, sealed in airtight bags and fermented for 21 days.

Chaffhaye tests 18-20% protein with a relative feed value higher than 170. It’s dust-free and highly digestible, according to Rader, which makes it ideal for horses with respiratory, colic and other problems. But it’s also fed to goats and a wide range of other animals, including zoo residents.

“We’ve got a lot of elephants, zebras and giraffes on it,” he says.

Chaffhaye originated in England, where Rader says chaff means chopped. It was brought to the U.S. by a group of Texas hay growers in the 1990s, then Rader bought the business in 2003 and set out to increase sales.

Chaffhaye is now sold directly and through dealers in about 30 states and six other countries. The retail price ranges from $10 to $14.50 per bag, depending on location.

When first quoted in Hay & Forage Grower in 2006, he was processing alfalfa from 450 owned acres. Today he also leases land and buys standing alfalfa for a total of 1,200 acres, and is looking for more. A shortage of available land in his area is making it hard for him to manufacture enough product to meet the growing demand.

“Supply is our limiting factor at this point,” he says.

The New Mexico State University students who suggested the name change did so as part of a marketing plan they developed for Chaffhaye. The plan, which won semifinalist honors in a national competition, recommended that the company expand its growing and processing operations into California’s San Joaquin Valley, a move Rader was already considering.

“California is a big market for us, and we have trouble getting enough product over there,” he says. “We’re talking to a group that has quite a few farms in that area, and we might do some kind of joint venture with them.”

He’s also looking at the Northeast, where rain often interferes with high-quality hay production. Chaffhaye demand is increasing in that region, but shipping costs are high.

“Having a plant in that area would save us 1,500 miles in transportation costs,” he says.

For more information, visit www.chaffhaye.com.