An Elgin, OK, hay marketer hopes to create a kind of fast-food chain for livestock by expanding its sister company — appropriately called McHay — which converts large square bales into smaller packages.

McCracken Hay Co. believes in bale customization. Even in this down market, it plans to expand its 50,000-sq-ft hay storage another 20,000 sq ft, doubling its labor force and adding a second shift to McHay's processing plant. It even plans to build a second McHay in another state. Today McCracken Hay markets 35,000 tons of hay around the country, bought predominately from Western growers, while McHay converts 3 × 4 × 8' and 4 × 4 × 8' bales into smaller sizes.

“My goal is to have this (facility) open to maximum capacity and have another one in two years,” says Phillip McCracken, McHay managing partner.

McHay's goal is to give every customer just the size bale he or she wants. To do that, the McCracken family invested in a bale conversion system.

“We modified the machine a bit since we bought it,” McCracken says. Improved cylinder strokes, electrical components and tables allow for increased capacity, reduced down time and 3.5% less waste, he says.

His is one of five U.S. companies that currently convert big bales with soft press machines, McCracken says. Several companies produce double-compressed bales, primarily for the overseas market.

In the McHay system, large square bales are loaded onto an automated feeder and moved through a slicing system that cuts each bale into three slabs. Each slab is individually weighed, banded and compressed to 85% of its original length. They can be further sliced into various sizes of bales. They're then stacked and wrapped in clear plastic by a special wrapping machine built by Wulftec International, Ayer's Cliff, Quebec, which designed it specifically for McHay.

“It's the only one like it in the world,” McCracken says.

No part of the bales, typically made of alfalfa, orchardgrass and brome, is wasted; hay “lost” in the cutting process is ground, cubed and packaged in 50-lb bags. The cubes are one of several other products McHay markets, including cedar mulch, bedding, shavings and pellets; and corrugated bedding, an eco-friendly product made of cardboard.

McCracken says he has 500 customers from California to Florida to New York. Large square bales are marketed mainly to dairies and cattle ranches; processed bales typically go to horse owners, horse trainers, feed stores, veterinarians and zoos.

McCracken Hay Co. does limited cutting and baling on 3,000 acres it rents, much of which is organic prairie grass, a combination of big and little bluestem, switchgrass and grama grass marketed to the horse industry and to dairies. In addition, for the past 30 years, the McCrackens and a neighboring family have cut and baled organic prairie hay for the Fort Sill Military Reservation in nearby Lawton.

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