If there's a gene for the ability to make award-winning hay, the Kamps-Miehe family must have it.

Three generations of the family - Dan and Ruth Kamps; their 16-year-old son, Joshua; and Ruth's dad, E. Charles Miehe - were top finishers in the 1997 World's Forage Analysis Superbowl. They all entered the commercial hay class with second-cutting samples of WL 325 alfalfa taken from different fields.

Joshua beat out his folks, grandpa and over 250 other contestants to claim the contest's top spot. He was honored as the World Champion Forage Producer at last October's World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI.

His entry tested 24.3% crude protein, 22% ADF and 32.1% NDF. It had a 208 relative feed value (RFV) score and a final score of 96.73.

When Joshua was named contest grand champion, Miehe became winner of the commercial hay class. His entry had an RFV of 200 and final score of 94.16.

Joshua's parents placed second in the class.

The Kamps family raises 500 acres of alfalfa near Darlington, WI. Miehe, in nearby Belmont, rents land to his daughter and son-in-law and grows some hay of his own, too. They all work together and share equipment.

Joshua, a high school junior, has been managing six acres of alfalfa for the past three years as part of an FFA project. He tracks all expenses, including fertilizer, mechanical drying or preservative application, seeding, machinery use, labor and fuel.

He's involved in all aspects of the farming operation, including raking, swathing, baling and loading the hay dryers.

"By helping me with the record-keeping, he's learned that growing alfalfa is more profitable than corn or beans," says Dan Kamps.

In 1997, Joshua had a yield of 6 tons/acre from three cuttings and a per-acre return of about $400.

"With a smaller acreage, you can kind of play with the weather a little bit more," his dad says. "He chooses which day he wants to cut his six acres, whereas, with our 494 acres, we don't have quite as much flexibility."

Kamps credits heavy fertilization, rich soil and mechanical hay drying for his family's ability to produce high-quality hay.

About two-thirds of their acreage is harvested in 3 x 3 x 8' bales weighing about 1,000 lbs; the rest, in 70-lb bales. It's sold to dairy and goat farmers and horse owners in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

The family built its first hay dryer in a lean-to off of the hay shed several years ago. A drying unit from an old grain bin was put at one end. Later it was replaced with a low-heat unit.

Air is heated to 120 degrees with propane and blown through the 3'-high x 7'-wide x 66'-long concrete tunnel and up through concrete grates that form the base of the drying chamber. It takes two to three days to dry 25 1,000-lb bales set on edge in a single layer over the grates.

Last summer, a second dryer was built in a pole building for around $14,000. It has two concrete tunnels that branch out from the heating unit and fan. Each 3' x 7' x 50' tunnel dries 19 1,000-lb bales at a time.

"By baling the hay wet and then drying it, there's very little leaf loss," says Kamps, who shoots for RFVs of 150 to 170.

Hay baled at 30-35% moisture is put in a dryer. If it's baled at 20-25% moisture, a buffered propionic acid preservative is applied. Kamps figures it costs $15/ton for either treatment.

Loren and Kristi Bruehlman, Argyle, WI, were named contest reserve grand champions. Their entry in the dairy haylage division had an RFV of 213 and a final score of 95.48.

Here's a rundown of the other class winners: Commercial baleage: Wade Wendhausen, Livingston, WI. Commercial cubes and pellets: Robert Harbecke, Ely, NV. Dairy hay: Ralph and Chris Linnemeier, Fort Wayne, IN. Champion first-time entrant, dairy hay: Rheal Simon, Notre Dame, Manitoba. Dairy haylage: Carl Linnemeier, Fort Wayne, IN. Champion first-time entrant, dairy haylage: Ken Jeanquart, Casco, WI.