When two Missouri horse enthusiasts created a new hay product three years ago, they took a grassroots approach to market development. They loaded up a U-Haul truck and traveled the country promoting it.

Theresa Hook Barton and Terry Corrie, Archie, MO, formed TNT Forage, Inc., to market their chopped hay product, TNT Chops. The company and its product offerings have grown steadily ever since.

TNT chops is high-quality alfalfa, alfalfa-orchard-grass or alfalfa-timothy hay mixed with cane molasses. Barton and Corrie created it for their own special-needs horse. Corrie was a hay producer and custom hay harvester, and had been a horse trainer for nearly 30 years. Barton grew up on a hay farm and was raising horses when the pair rescued an abandoned, blind mare that was near death.

To stimulate the animal's appetite, they mixed a molasses sweetener with chopped alfalfa. The mare recovered, other horse owners and trainers began asking for their special feed, and Barton and Corrie found themselves looking at a new business opportunity.

The pair expanded their market area by loading a truck with product and heading for parts of the country with large numbers of horse farms.

“We would visit the horse farms and leave a few bags of product for the people to try,” Barton remembers. “We always got good response. Once people's animals started eating it, we always got calls from the customers wanting more.” Then Barton and Corrie would tell local feed dealers how many people in an area were interested in the product.

“We told the feed dealers we were already bringing a client base to them, which helped build interest in the product,” says Barton. “When we had three or four feed dealers in an area, we would go to a major distributor in that region and ask if it would be interested in distributing the product. We literally developed a grassroots interest in the product first, before we ever approached marketers like Cargill and Agriventures to sell our product. It worked for us.”

In addition to TNT Chops, they now sell similar products for the alpaca and zoo animal markets, and for small animals such as rabbits. They also sell complete feeds for various animals.

The bagged products are popular because they're easy to store and feed, Barton says. A 40-lb bag of TNT Chops sells for around $8 in the Midwest, and about $15 in areas such as New York and Florida.

The pair started producing their product with a small hammermill. They have now purchased and renovated a grain processing facility and have several employees.

They buy around 220 tons of hay per month, mostly from South Dakota growers.

“We don't have to worry so much about blister beetles in the hay from that area,” says Barton.

Learn more at www.tntforage.com, or call Barton and Corrie at 816-430-5261.