Decherts turn quality hay to quality cube business
Riverton – The Dechert family settled in Fremont County in the 1930s. Over time, succeeding generations also became involved in agriculture and the family farm, which eventually led to the present-day alfalfa hay cubing business.
“John Deere used to make a field cuber that my grandfather and father used in the ‘70s,” says Jerry Dechert, who today runs Wyoming Hay Cubes with his father Lloyd who founded the business. “They’d sell to local ranchers, and over time that increased to around the state.”
John Deere discontinued field cubers in the 1980s, and Jerry says that spurred the switch a dozen years ago to a stationary cuber. “Now, instead of making cubes in the field, we bale the hay, bring it in and run it through the cuber when we find the time.”
“We make a better quality product, and we can handle a higher volume with the stationary cuber,” he explains. “With the big baler systems and stacking we can handle a lot more volume. The field cubers could run at about four tons per hour, requiring five people to operate them, and would cover fewer acres with a lot less tonnage.”
He adds a benefit of being able to hay faster is that hay needs to be really dry to cube, so without field cubing the operation can roll through the hay in a hurry when it’s in the proper condition. “This time of year there’s a window between 1 and 2 in the afternoon until 8 or 9 at night when I can bale,” he notes.
Following baling season, the Decherts will cube for a few months until winter gets cold, cubing again in the spring. The stationary cuber they have sits under a roof and a conveyor takes big square bales to the grinder, where it’s first hammered out, after which it moves up through a box to smooth out the hay. A little bit of water is added, then the hay drops into a big drum with die blocks and an augur pushes it all through.
“We add heat and water – that makes a cube,” says Jerry. “Then we take it off and store it in buildings. It’s a one- or two-guy operation now, to monitor it and adjust the water, which adjusts the quality and how hard the cube is.”
“We’re able to make a better quality cube and bale the hay under better circumstances, and we can also monitor the cubes as they’re coming off the machine, so we started getting into the bagging market,” says Jerry of their expansion from bulk cubes. “Over the last five years we’ve gotten serious about bagging more of the hay we produce.”
After cubing, the cubes are stored in sheds with concrete floors. “When we pile them, we’ll get a layer that weathers over time, but four or five inches deep the hay is just like it was when we put it in there,” explains Jerry.
When the Decherts get ready to bag the cubes, a gravity wagon is filled with cubes and a conveyor brings it into a building to the bagger, which is computer controlled by weight. The bag is released at 50 pounds, tagged and stitched before being sent up a conveyor to be stacked on a pallet.
“It takes five people, plus somebody adding hay outside, but we can bag about 10 tons per hour,” says Jerry. “We usually go through about 1,400 bags when we bag, which is for three or three-and-a-half hours at a time.”
Jerry says they bag once or twice a week in the fall, especially when they start to move more hay to packers and outfitters. “All our hay is certified weed seed free, and we work with Fremont County Weed and Pest so it can be taken into the National Forests.”
Before any field of hay is baled, the weed and pest district makes a visit to the location. “We’ve done that since we started bagging,” says Jerry. “It’s one of the keys of marketing our cubes. Locally it’s important because everyone wants to take it to the mountains, and when we ship it elsewhere we can tell them it’s certified and clean hay.”
“The kind of hay we want to cube will be relatively weed free, anyway,” says Jerry. “If it’s got a lot of weeds it won’t cube well, so the quality is already there. We can deal with hunters and outfitters and ship to other places as a high quality product.”
“We do a lot of work with feed stores around the area,” notes Jerry, adding they also deal with Ranch Way Feeds, which transports to the entire Ranch Way system. “We also deal with a horse farm in Kentucky and ship to Texas and Iowa.”
Comparing shipping hay bales to shipping cubes, Jerry says it’s easier to make a full truckload of cubes. “When we send a truck to Kentucky, we make sure it’s at maximum weight. Sometimes with baled hay you can have trouble getting the full 22 tons,” he says.
In addition to their own hay, the Decherts do purchase area hay as needed, and those producers are also certified weed free.
“In a typical year, 80 percent of our production will be bagged,” says Jerry, adding this year’s first cutting was baled without any rain. “Even though yields are down with last spring’s weather, we’ll have about the same amount to bag.”
“We decided when we started, if it’s going to be in a bag, it’s going to be good,” says Jerry. “We’ won’t pawn off marginal hay. We watch everything coming out of the cuber, and decide whether to keep it. We’ve done that the whole way through, and people buy it because they know what they’re going to get. They get what they pay for.”
“When you get it, it’s good, and you can take it anywhere,” adds Lloyd. “We get a lot of repeat customers, and we like knowing people are satisfied with the end product.”