Wollerts work hard to maintain businessesWritten by Christy Hemken
“When I first started stacking, wherever there was a bale, I’d chase it,” says Mike. One truck turned into two, and now Mike hires help for the second truck and has just completed his 11th season stacking bales.
“When I started considering stacking hay as a business I realized we could swath and bale fast, but when it comes to getting hay out of the field it takes a long time. I felt there was an opportunity there,” he says of his beginning.
“Now we can stay in the local area,” says Mike, noting that’s not only because he’s developed a customer base but also because there’s a lot more hay produced in the area today.
“We put in a lot of hours, and 16 to 18 hour days at the peak,” says Mike. “The most I ever spent was 21 hours in the truck. It’s been a good business, but very demanding.”
He says most producers want their hay stacked right after baling, and some even call before they’re done. “Sometimes we’re chasing 10 balers that are running, trying to keep up with everybody,” he adds.
“Everyone starts baling the same day, then it starts spreading out a little bit, and we stack some wheat straw in there too. We start around the first of June and stack into the fall,” says Mike, who had some yet to stack into November.
“The moisture delayed things this year, and sometimes we’ll have some customers bale cornstalks, so I’ve stacked into January before,” says Mike.
Mike says he doesn’t haul the bales far to stack them. “It takes too much time and fuel to haul and stack, and I don’t make any money when I have to haul very far because I get paid per bale.”
“Two’s plenty,” says Mike when asked if he has any plans to expand the stacking business. “The one truck is getting pretty worn, and it’s stacked a tremendous amount of bales, but I don’t want to buy another one because you have to work so hard to get it paid for.”
Today Mike estimates he stacks 85 percent of the bales in the area.
Five years ago Mike and his wife Gretchen purchased their current place, which includes irrigated pasture and enabled them to get back into cattle. Mike says in the past he’s grazed his cows in Nebraska, near Lance Creek and near Torrington. “We’ve been everywhere, but now we’ve got the grass right here.”
Mike’s commercial cowherd is black, bred to black bulls. Although he sells his calves in the fall right now, he’d eventually like to put up a facility to feed some out.
Mike and Gretchen also recently got into the greenhouse business with the purchase of Pleasant Valley Greenhouse on Torrington’s east side, which Gretchen manages.
Mike says when they got the 24,000-square-foot greenhouse it was rough, but Gretchen says they’ve fixed it up and she spends much of her winter and spring there.
“In January I really start planting seeds, while March is nothing but transplanting to four-packs,” says Gretchen. “I’m done about the end of June, and the biggest month is May.”
Gretchen also had a taxidermy business for a number of years. “That was a good business, and made up for income lost when I quit teaching to stay home with the girls,” she says. Anymore she says she only does it if Mike or one of her girls brings home “a big one.”
The Wollerts also raise some colts. “People are just starting to use the colt’s we’ve raised, and they really like them,” says Mike. “I try to breed extensively with a cutting pedigree where they’ll watch cattle. Also, people don’t ride like they used to, so we can’t breed animals like we used to, where if you rode them enough to keep them worn down people could get along with them.”
“We stay very busy between stacking, the greenhouse, our farm and cattle and chasing the girls,” says Mike of his daughters Candace, 17, Taylor, 16 Gabrielle, 12 and Georgia, 10.
“We’re very independent and we work hard, and we wouldn’t raise our girls anywhere else than rural Wyoming,” adds Gretchen.