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New Guy looking for some Direction

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#1 Danno



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Posted 18 March 2021 - 08:00 PM

Hey all, looking for some seasoned, objective advice on what direction to head on a farm.  My dad has about 85 acres currently in row crop that he rents out.  I run about 9 head of cattle on pasture, and do a few acres of small squares on the headlands.  I got my agronomy degree, ended up in a totally different field, and feel the draw to get into farming on the side of my current full time job.  I'm trying to come up with a plan that will give me my fix, put a few bucks in my pocket, yet not eat up all my spare time (been down that road before with another business, and have 3 kids).  The current renters are aware I am wanting to do something, and have been very helpful.  I've penciled out row crop, but that doesn't leave me much to do besides planting due to equipment cost.  I've always had an interest in hay, part for doing something different here where the majority of ground is row crop, and partly because I'd like to feed my own cows, and be more in control of what I'm growing and selling.  My big sticking points seem to be time involved (my job schedule is pretty flexible), storage, and if the market is present.  I'm currently setup with a IH 656D, a 350 9' sickle bar mower, a NH super 68 baler and a NH 56 rake.  I have limited storage in a barn at my dad's, but will be putting up a 36x45 this year.  I'll list a few ideas here, let me know what you all think.  


1.) Continue adding 10-15 acres of hay and do some small squares, sell them off (I figure average 120 bales/acre @ $5/bale for alalfa/grass mix), buy the big rounds for my cows and be content


2.) Go bigger, put the whole 85 in hay (likely an alfalfa mix), upgrade to a cabbed tractor, mower conditioner, and newer small square baler.  Storage seems to be the issue here, along with the time/labor of that many small squares for a part time gig


3.) Go bigger, put all 85 in hay, but buy a 4x4 or 4x5 round baler and individual bale wrapper, upgrade to a mower conditioner or disc mower, and wheel rake.  My thought here is I can market the smaller bales 4' bales to people like me running a few cows or horses.  Easier to move with smaller tractor and to load.  My thought on the bale wrapper is that I could bale wetter hay (if needed), it would store better outside (solving my indoor storage issue), I could feed my own small herd, and the hay would store better (thus be more appealing) to customers.  My dad seems to like this best for time involved and in general.


4.) Get out all together, it's not worth the time, leave it to full timers


I do believe there would be a shot at some NRCS EQUIP funds for seeding row crop ground to forages.  I feel like I can sell small squares fairly easy in my area (close to Omaha), but is there a market for 4' bales???  I'm not finding a lot on craigslist/FB marketplace.  I figured 3 tons/acre with 700 lb bales, selling in the $50-$60 range (wrapped).  My numbers pencil out for idea 3, as long as I had the market for that....


Also, any insight on beginning farmer micro loans (for equipment and my barn) would be appreciated.


Looking forward to your thoughts, and thanks for your time.




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#2 BisonMan



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Posted 18 March 2021 - 11:00 PM

Corn/Soy Prices are High so I'd help to make sure your Dad is getting decent rental rate. Also, would this be for this spring? The tenant farmer might have already bought his seed and inputs (almost for sure).


I did my first year of hay on a farm I bought and put in 60 acres of hay, for future use as pasture. 


To me, option 1 looks good for year 1 based on my experience:

- You'll have time to look for equipment and make plans for next year

- It won't put too much pressure on you with your family, similarly your Dad has rent and I assume will want something for the hay.

- You'll meet customers on kijiji so that by the time you go big you might already have buyers lined up

- Inputs are pricey, and you already have the equipment. Picking up a tractor, baling equipment on a 2-3 month timeline can be a little stressful if you're busy. Getting the right price on your equipment is important. I like to kick tires a little I guess.

- Selling Small Squares out of your barn is exactly what you are wanting " some side hustle and some pocket change"


If you go to choice 1, you can get out and go to choice 4 or just let someone else bale it as it'll be planted hay. A custom guy will give you all the hay you need for yourself. Plus if you are putting in another 70 acres in year 2, that'll be plenty big.


Also, you'll need a tractor with a loader.

#3 Vol


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Posted 19 March 2021 - 06:01 AM

If I understand correctly, round bales sell pretty good in Iowa. Check around and see if they will afford a price that will pencil an equipment investment. Small squares are too time consuming for a fella that has a full time job, 3 kids and a wife and who is intelligent enough to not seek out abuse and punishment. Weather conditions for a small square maker can be unmerciful. Round baling with a good netwrap baler is the only way to go if you have a market for them. 


You are kind of in the middle of the road when round baling with the extremes being small squares and large squares. Life is so much easier with a good round baler.


Regards, Mike

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Posted 19 March 2021 - 07:20 AM

#1. Make excellent small bales, sell them for $8, buy cheap rounds for herd out of field from someone else. If your quality isn't top notch feed the smalls to your herd. Reevaluate as grain prices change and your reputation as top quality producer grows.

In my area there are just too many rounds available to ever push price, just a commodity. You need big acres to get your cost of production competitive just like row crops.
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#5 mstuck21



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Posted 20 March 2021 - 07:55 PM

#1 as SVFHAY says. Expand the current setup and see where it leads. If you get in a bind find a buddy to round bale it off and feed your animals.

On small acres go all in on quality and chase the top dollar.
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#6 RockmartGA


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Posted 21 March 2021 - 10:16 AM

Ah yes, the Hayman's Lament.


Going small takes up too much time for the yield and going big costs too much $$$.


You've got the equipment to do 10-15 acres and that might be enough to let you test the waters.  Give yourself a couple of years to learn what it takes to grow good hay and see if this is something that you want to continue doing.

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#7 Hayjosh


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Posted 21 March 2021 - 09:14 PM

Where in SW Iowa are you? I grew up in Pisgah, and most of my family is from Mondamin, Pisgah, and Woodbine. One of my family's farms is still in Woodbine.


I'm one of those crazy enough to work a full time job and does squares on the side. I am doing 40 acres of small squares this year, and 25 of those are custom acres. I could snap my finger and have another 60 acres show up magically but I don't hate myself that much. I'm also one of the only ones in my area still crazy enough to do small squares which is why there's been a lot of demand for custom work, which I've done well refusing so far.


I too started out real tiny with crap equipment and haying was very frustrating. In fact I sold all my stuff (except the baler because I have a nice baler) and said I was done. Somehow, the very next spring I was buying equipment again, but I had sworn off old antiquated equipment and I got low-acre used equipment in really good shape with enough time being on the lookout. 


So don't try to bite off a lot of acres with your current equipment lineup. There's also a learning curve to haying, especially small squares and it takes some years to get it figured out. I'm only now adding acreage because the last two seasons have been good for me, they went smoothly, I was coming out ahead financially, and I knew what I was doing and am making some really nice hay that has grown a reputation. Before the last two seasons were four pretty bumpy and stressful years.


I am not sure if you can sell small squares for a premium in SW Iowa; that area is pretty economically depressed.


I think your yield needs revisiting too. In my area now in SW Michigan, I can get 80-100 bales an acre of orchard grass/clover that's fertilized on first cut, selling this for $5, and second cut might be 40 bales/acre, and third cut is 'chasing hay' at 20-maybe 30 bales/acre. Second and third cut I sell for $6-7. In SW Michigan, the water from the sky shuts off after June and it's pretty dry through August so the last few years have not gone well for second cut. These are 40-45 lb bales. I don't like to make the bales too heavy; it's harder for the kids on the wagon and most importantly, people don't pay a premium for heavier bales. So why should I give hay away in a heavier bale if I can make more lighter bales and sell for the same money. Our soil is also pretty sandy here; I wish we had that black Harrison County dirt.

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#8 siscofarms


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Posted 22 March 2021 - 09:21 AM

Grow the cattle herd . Do some hay for them and sell some if you really want to , but cattle , may not pay as much at times , but probably wont break you . If you CAN sell everything you bale and you DONT have major breakdowns , mother nature will get you . Plus all the crazy people wanting perfect hay , which yours will never be even if it is , for 2 bucks a bale . Cows also works better with a full time off the farm job .

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#9 Hayman1


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Posted 22 March 2021 - 01:03 PM

I tend to agree Sisco, but if it's in your blood, well...  I was doing 100 plus acres when I worked a full time job as squares.  Looking back on it, I have no idea how but they were all sold as horse hay and I have the same customers, albeit, less of them because I cut back substantially.  Way too many around here cut their hay in july when it is straw/mulch because, "they're just making cow hay".  I am not an animal man, but garbage in, garbage out.  And, I was a trash man.

#10 Trillium Farm

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Posted 22 March 2021 - 06:28 PM

And not even a thank you for the replies!

#11 Danno



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Posted 23 March 2021 - 11:09 AM

And not even a thank you for the replies!

Been a busy week, but I appreciate all the replies.


After considering inputs from many sources, I'm leaning towards the adding 10-15 of hay and maybe another 5 of pasture over the next few years.  Sometimes I get in a rush to get the ball rolling, but I think in this case doing it slow is the ticket.  I'd like to build that reputation of quality and build a customer base and see where it takes me.  And this gives me time to locate some solid used equipment.


Hayjosh, i'm just a few miles east of Council Bluffs, so there seems to be a decent market for horse hay in the Omaha metro area, hoping that could be part of my marketing plan...

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