Every bale that Mike Fabrizius sells is probed for moisture content at least twice before it leaves his hay yard.
He strives for customer satisfaction, and making sure all his hay falls within a safe moisture range is part of that effort. One bad bale can turn a buyer sour, and that can haunt a grower for years, says Fabrizius, of Mile High Ranch, Riverton, WY.
“If you always send good quality, you don’t have to worry about it,” he says. “They’re going to be pleased at the other end.”
Satisfied customers have helped generate strong demand for his hay, even in years with heavy supplies.
“Word of mouth is way better than any advertising that I’ve ever seen,” he says.
Fabrizius grows 960 acres of alfalfa and alfalfa-grass hay, selling 3 x 3 x 8’ bales to a variety of customers, including hard-to-please horse owners.
“I know they’re picky, so I have to be, too,” he says. “I like dealing with them, because when I put a load on I know they’re going to be satisfied.”
The windrower and baler operators have important roles in ensuring that every bale is high in quality. But slugs happen, often in bales made from end windrows run over by the cutting machine. Keeping those and other problem bales out of stacks and off of customers’ truckloads is a priority.
The driver who hauls bales from fields to the hay yard probes them all before they’re unloaded. Any bales testing more than 18-19% moisture are set aside to dry for a few days. They don’t go into a stack until the hot spots are gone.
The driver also checks every bale for other problems that might disappoint a buyer. If an alfalfa bale has some visible grass, for example, the bale is put in a different stack.
The entire process is repeated when bales are loaded onto trucks headed for clients’ farms.
“We want to make sure that we put on quality bales that they’re going to be proud of when they get them at the other end,” says Fabrizius.
Loading those trucks quickly so drivers can get back on the road gets top priority. Most Mile High Ranch hay is hauled by commercial truckers, and Fabrizius wants to make it as easy as possible for them.
“If you help a truck driver get out of your driveway, he seems to take care of your load a lot better.”
He likes shipping hay in vans, but when a load will be hauled a long distance on a flatbed, he first puts down a sheet of plastic, then ties it up underneath the tarp so all the hay is protected.
Helping the driver secure and tarp the load is standard operating procedure.
“Then I always thank him for hauling that load of hay for me because it’s part of a group effort to make everything work.”
Fabrizius seeds pure alfalfa, then adds grass as stands age and eventually replaces the stand with beardless barley. He says beardless barley hay brings strong prices, and rotating to a hay crop instead of a row crop keeps him from having to buy more tractors and equipment.
“It’s tough for me to see that I should buy that much equipment when I can make a decent living just sticking with hay,” he says. “I like being in the hay business.”