Cattle as far away as China and horses from some of America’s top racetracks feed on Mike Standlee’s hay and forage products. So do rabbits, guinea pigs and other pets.

His 30-year-old business, Standlee Hay Co., now services all 50 U.S. states and several foreign countries. Not bad for a farm boy who started with $900 and used equipment.

“We figured out real quick that if we were going to survive in the hay business, we had to open up new markets everywhere,” says Standlee, CEO of the Eden, ID-based company.

“That was our goal from Day One – to have markets everywhere so we weren’t dependent on one market.”

Timothy, orchardgrass, orchard-alfalfa and straight alfalfa are grown on about 14,000 of the company’s acres and another 4,000 leased acres – all irrigated. Three- to four-year alfalfa stands are rotated to three-year timothy stands, then potatoes and small grains.

“We do practically everything ourselves,” says Standlee, who maintains a fleet of swathers, balers, stackers and other equipment. “The only thing we don’t do is raise our own spuds. Whenever we go into spuds, we lease the spud ground out.”

Southern Idaho’s high-desert climate and low humidity allow hay to cure in as little as three days, offering a “consistent, high-quality product every year,” he says.

The company purchases and produces about 300,000 tons of hay and forage products annually and employs nearly 200 people at its processing plant near Eden.

Finished product can take a variety of forms, including large bales, compressed bales, cubes and pellets. Some is served to high-profile clients: “That will probably end up going to the Budweiser Clydesdales,” says Standlee, nodding toward a truck loaded with timothy hay.

Standlee grew up on a small Eden farm owned by his parents, Gene and June. For a time, he and his brother, Lynn, worked together in the custom hay business. But in 1982, Standlee and his wife, Whendy, launched Standlee Hay Co.

Today the family business includes son Dusty. He was just named president of the company that got its start specializing in the thoroughbred racehorse industry – and continues to be a big part of it. Distribution facilities in Newark, DE; Lexington, KY; and Ocala, FL, allow hay to be available as horses move from track to track.

And these aren’t just any horses; the 2011 Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom and Preakness winner Shackleford were both fueled by Standlee hay.

The company also supplies about 70% of the feed and animal health-care needs of horses at Delaware Park. It could soon command a similar share of Philadelphia’s high-end horse market with a recent acquisition of a local animal feed company.

“Whenever an opportunity comes around, you act on it. You make sure you’re ready to act on it or someone else will,” Standlee says.

International marketsshow some of the best potential for growth, he believes.

The company ships to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The real up-and-coming market is China, he says. “The growth of dairies in China is increasing every year,” says Standlee, who ships 1,000-lb compressed bales there. “They are seeing the advantages of feeding good forage.”

The company has also made a big push into the retail market in recent years. Its products are sold in about 4,500 farm-and-ranch supply stores nationwide.

“Our main market is the guy who has a little ranchette – a few horses, a steer, goat, sheep or whatever,” Standlee says.

While the company has continued to develop new markets, it hasn’t lost sight of its primary focus on quality and service.

“The key is to have product for your customers year-around,” Standlee says. “That is how you grow a business.”