When Chris Buck's family's hay is ready to bale at the same time as a client's hay, deciding which fields to do first is a no-brainer for her.

“You have to give your custom work priority over everything else,” says Buck, of Cherokee, OK. “Baling our hay last is how we have to work. We try to make sure nobody else's hay gets rained on, even if we have our own hay down and ready to bale.”

That type of commitment to clients has helped Buck and her sisters build their custom haying business to the point where they've got all the work they can handle.

“The people we bale for are loyal to us, so we have to be loyal to them,” she points out. “They know we'll bust our tails for them.”

An Oklahoma State University graduate, Buck is starting her 11th year of custom haying. For the first several years, her sister Angie, another Oklahoma State graduate, worked with her. Last year, younger sister Jamie, a junior at the university, took over Angie's part in the business.

With help from their dad and a hired 16-year-old girl, the two sisters handle 700 family acres of alfalfa plus roughly 1,400 acres of custom work. They use two big square balers, a pair of rakes and a bale wagon that handles eight 4 × 8' bales at a time. Most baling is done at night.

While doing a good job of haying is hard work and demanding, the sisters are happy to be custom harvesters.

“I could have gone out and maybe made more money working for some big company in a city,” says Chris. “But this is my home and all my grandparents live within five miles. I also like being my own boss. I don't think I'd be happy sitting in an office all day every day.”

As for being females in a typically male business, she says the solution is simple: “We just have to do a better job than the guys. Sometimes farmers at first assume we don't know anything because we're women. But we've found that, if we do the best possible job, the customers will come our way.”

That includes many nights of snatching catnaps in a pickup cab and waking up every hour to check the hay's condition.

“Some nights you stay up all night and you might get only 20 bales baled due to small windrows. But that's how you have to do it if you want customers coming back,” she says.

Timeliness and dependability are the keys to successful custom haying, says Buck. “When the hay is ready to swath or bale, you have to be there, no matter how tired you may be. You can't take off for even a few days of vacation during the summer.”