The sale of a high-priced painting to a New York City museum got Craig Cook's attention a couple of years ago.

It wasn't because this hay grower and dealer was interested in fine art. It meant he'd finally get paid a long-standing, sizable horse hay bill owed him by the painting's former owner.

That was just one of many frustrations Cook had before downsizing his Auburn, NY, operation.

"I was taking customer after customer just to keep everything rolling," Cook recalls. "People were hard to deal with, and I ended up dealing with people I shouldn't have."

At that time, Cook owned six trucks and had 10 drivers on his payroll, hauling hay and other commodities daily to several states. With many customers to satisfy, Cook bought and sold hay at breakneck speed.

"I was generating a lot of money, but was not able to keep any of it."

Frustrated by high accounts receivable, the big payroll and by the inability to find enough premium-quality hay to meet his customers' needs, Cook decided to scale back.

Now he puts more emphasis on producing high-quality horse hay from his 350 acres of alfalfa and timothy. He takes three cuttings and packages the hay in 75-lb bales.

"By growing more of my own hay, I can closely control the quality and know exactly what's going on the trucks," he says.

This spring he plans to rent more land to increase his production. He's working with Steffen Systems, Salem, OR, to develop a hydraulic splitter hitch so he can pull two balers behind one tractor.

Cook's still hauling commodities such as straw, cottonseed and brewer's grain, and buying and selling hay. But he limits the quantity of hay handled to about 5,500 tons per year, about 50% less than he handled before.

He now owns just two trucks and sometimes subcontracts with another trucking firm. To maximize efficiency, each truck pulls two trailers.

"One driver is now as productive as two used to be," he explains.

"We also started dropping loads. A trucker takes a load to a farm or stable and the owner feeds off the trailer. We go back one to six weeks later to pick up the empty trailer and bring another full one."

Cook says downsizing has improved his profits and quality of life.

"I'm better off with just a small core group of dependable customers who pay on time."