By Rick Mooney
Editor, eHay Weekly

If necessity is the mother of invention, frustration can be the parent of entrepreneurship.

Earlier this year, horse owners Todd and Chris Kane, Wendall, NC, found themselves frustrated by rising hay prices in their area. Before the 2007 drought, the couple was paying $7-8/bale for good-quality timothy or alfalfa hay. Since then, the going price has steadily risen to $16-18/bale. “It’s gotten crazy,” says Todd Kane. “With the economy the way it is, people just can’t afford to pay that kind of money to feed their horses.”

In analyzing the situation, the Kanes concluded that owning only a few animals – Todd has two Belgian draft horses that he enters in pulling competitions, while Chris has a quarter horse for pleasure riding – was a hurdle. They weren’t able to negotiate volume discounts with area suppliers or to justify going farther afield to locate a cheaper supply. During the course of a year, they typically buy about 400 small square bales of timothy and alfalfa. Usually, they buy 30-40 bales (roughly a month’s supply) at a time.

Their solution was to team up with other small-scale livestock owners in the area to boost their collective bargaining power. Earlier this summer, they launched the Triangle Hay Club. So far, around three-dozen people in the Research Triangle area of eastern North Carolina have signed on.

Using his pickup and a rented gooseneck trailer, Todd made three buying trips – one to New York, two to Pennsylvania – to fill orders placed by buying-club members. The size of individual orders ranged from two bales (a rabbit owner) to 150 bales (a horse owner). On each of the trips, he purchased 225-250 small square bales.

“We continually do our homework to find the best hay available at the best price,” he says. “We inspect every bale before we load it on the trailer. Our philosophy is straightforward: If it isn't good enough to feed to our own horses, it doesn’t make it onto our trailer.”

Adds Chris: “We prefer to do business with small, family owned hay farms because we’ve found they take personal pride in their hay and are very easy to work with. Like us, they’re simply looking for an honest and fair price. Everybody wins.”

The Kanes charge club members $6-7/bale depending on hay composition, size and weight, a little more if they have to deliver the hay to the buyer’s location. “People look at that as a fairly reasonable price,” Todd says. “We had one lady who bought 40 bales. She told us she was just tickled because she had been paying $14/bale for hay locally. At our price, she figured she was getting two bales for the price of one.”

The Kanes see a clear distinction between the service they’re offering and those offered by hay brokers. “We’re not in this to make a ton of money,” says Todd. “We basically want to cover the cost of the trips, plus get a little return on the time we have invested.”

The couple expects membership in the club to continue growing as more people learn about its existence. “We’re getting calls from new people looking to sign up all the time,” says Todd. “We’ve also had a couple of calls from growers and truckers offering to arrange or make some of the (buying) runs for us. But their transportation estimates per bale ended up being more than what we can do it for ourselves.”

To learn more, contact the Kanes at 919-634-5498 or ctkane@bellsouth.net.