Garaâ€™s green bales ship nationwideWritten by Christy Hemken
Of how he landed in Goshen County, Erv says he was working for Pioneer Hybrid in an East Coast sales area when his parents told him they were going to buy a farm in eastern Wyoming and asked if he wanted to join in.
“They helped me get started, and my dad and I began with two tractors 14 years ago,” says Erv.
“I’ve been around hay my whole life,” says Erv of his production experience. “When I was eight or nine years old I’d ride my bike down to my neighbor’s, who grew hay, and I asked him for a job and he stuck me on the baler, so I’ve been around farming my whole life, even though my family only owned 10 acres.”
Today Erv’s parents live a few miles from his place and his dad still trades labor with Erv’s operation. “He’s my main guy,” says Erv. “He’s the one out there raking at three in the morning and making sure the crew gets up.”
When selecting varieties for producing high quality hay, Erv says he sticks with a Northrup-King variety. “That seed produces well for me and the relative feed value is always high,” he says. “That’s what I’ve placed with at the World Dairy Forage Expo. I buy a few different seeds here and there, but I stick with Northrup-King.”
Erv has experienced success entering the national dairy forage competition, taking first and fifth when he’s sent hay back to Wisconsin.
Of managing his stands, he says he’s got one that’s been in for 12 years and is still producing. “Good management is what determines how long a stand is in,” he notes. “We spray every year, and try to fertilize. If the tonnage starts going down, or if there’s winter kill or I start seeing bare ground I replace the stand.”
“In the summer I generally get up around seven or eight in the morning, go change the water and come back and fix anything for the day, blow the balers off and put twine in for the night,” says Erv of a typical day during baling season. “I come in for lunch, take a two-hour nap and go back out and for a bit, changing the water again and coming in for supper, then we’re out baling until, it depends, one, two, three or even six in the morning. It’s long.”
Of the wet 2009 growing season, Erv says, “It’s been a terrible year for the hay, dairy and row crop guys.”
However, he does say his guys were happy because they actually got time off with the wet weather. “We had to bale during the day, and this was the second time in my life I’ve taken a vacation in the summer.”
Out of his first cutting he says he only got 100 acres up green with no rain. “On the second cutting we got from 35 to 50 percent up green, and the third cutting even got some snow on it.” In mid-November he was just finishing up his last 300 acres of his last cutting.
“Now we just want to clean the equipment up and get a fresh start for next year,” he says of winter’s long-awaited onset.
In the winter his two trucks continue to run as well, hauling hay to Colorado.
“A lot of hay goes to Colorado now because of the Dairy Expo, and we’ve been shipping a lot to Wisconsin and Iowa,” says Erv, noting that a lot of Torrington producers have begun to do that. “The Expo’s been great for the state of Wyoming’s hay producers, and what Scott Keith has done for the hay industry is unreal. I don’t think people are aware the time and effort he’s put into this.”
Erv estimates only 15 percent of his hay stays in Wyoming, and he bales all big squares, staying away from small squares and horse people because of the time it takes to stack and load them on a truck. This year he says he did put up 3,000 bales of small squares because, while the hay market was going down, the horse hay market was steady.
Along with the hay Erv does maintain a cowherd, which he says he put together 12 years ago when hay was selling for $40 per ton. “It was cheaper to buy cattle and feed that hay to them,” he explains.
The cows winter in Goshen County and are shipped to the Johnson family at Elk Mountain for the summer.
“I like making the nice green bales, putting them on a truck and sending them to someone who calls me up to say, ‘That’s great hay,’” says Erv of the hay business.
He says neighbors in his area continue to help each other out, giving an instance of a haystack fire when several neighbors showed up as an example.
“Plus, it’s a good life for my kids,” says Erv of his two sons, Lucas, 5, and Brett, 2, who are already showing an interest in operating the equipment and producing hay with their dad and grandpa.