Wyoming farmer David Hinman bales alfalfa in the early morning or late evening after the dew has added moisture to the bone-dry harvest.
It was 1984 when David Hinman recently broke off his family’s farm in Nebraska and took the chance to rent 400 acres of flood-irrigated land near Wheatland, Wyo.
He was young and hardworking.
David Hinman was named Grand Champion Forage Producer in the World Forage Analysis Superbowl last year.
During that first year, a friend who was helping Hinman get on his feet with the new venture examined the young farmer’s field of cut alfalfa – a crop that had been set by the previous operator. Hinman’s friend turned to him and said, “I’ll meet you at midnight to clench it.” Hinman, who had previously only made hay for his family’s beef herd, was a little shocked at the request for a midnight rendezvous, but he stuck to the plan.
“That night I learned how to make high quality alfalfa,” said Hinman
Through art and science, Hinman and his wife Teri have since improved their haymaking skills. For 20 years, her name Hardrock Farms has been consistently high on the list of the World Forage Analysis Superbowl, which takes place every year during the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2020, her hay sample in the commercial hay department outperformed all other competition entries with a relative feed quality (RFQ) of 405 and a milk value per tonne of 4,062. Hardrock Farms was named Grand Champion Forage Producer in a virtual awards ceremony last October.
A cumbersome journey
Hinman grew up on the family farm near Mitchell, Neb., Where he graduated from high school and entered college on a scholarship. At first he didn’t feel like turning agriculture into a profession. During the summer after his freshman year, he worked for an irrigation company, which sparked renewed interest in returning to the family’s row crop and beef farm. Hinman stopped college life and returned to the farm, but so did his younger brother soon after.
“With additional land that is hard to come by in Nebraska, my father sold the Nebraska farm and moved us to Colorado,” Hinman said. “But getting enough water for irrigation turned out to be a problem. So we went back to Nebraska in the late 1970s.” It was still difficult to find enough additional land to support each of the boys.
“I spoke to a friend who knew about a farm near Wheatland, Wyo, that had 400 acres of continuous acres of home and business,” Hinman said. “In 1984, against my father’s advice, I decided to rent this flood-watered farm and we never looked back.”
After renting land for four years, in a depressed economy in the late 1980s, he bought a nearby pivot irrigation farm for $ 325 an acre. “I paid for it the first year I grew dry beans,” Hinman chuckled. In the following years he bought several other farms in the area.
Hinman currently farms approximately 750 acres of alfalfa and has six irrigation cones. He also has some pasture areas that are pivotably irrigated and keep a herd of around 200 hatching cows which his daughter Kellie oversees. Another daughter, Kristen, lives on the farm in Cheyenne.
Teri Hinman and her Bale Baron collect small square bales of orchard grass, creating a 21-bale bundle for easy handling and transport.
An environment for haymaking
Wheatland (population 3,565) is located in southeast Wyoming, about halfway between Cheyenne and Casper on Interstate 25. It is at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. Summer days are hot and dry. According to Hinman, rainfall is typically 7 to 11 inches per year, mostly in winter and early spring. This extreme weather is buffered by cool summer nights. This gives Hinman its advantage in terms of feed quality, as overnight breathing losses due to wilting alfalfa are minimal.
Hinman cuts his alfalfa into a 3 to 4 foot swath and then lets it sit until it is ready to bale. “Sometimes we have to rake early in the morning,” remarked Hinman. His approach to determining when the alfalfa is ready to be balled is pretty straightforward – the stalks must crack or break when bent during the day. In this case, the hay is usually pressed very early the next morning, provided there is enough night dew moisture to rewet the crop. If necessary, an organic acid is applied to the hay when the moisture content is slightly higher than desired, which is usually only the case during the third and fourth cuttings.
The entire baler is done either very early in the morning or late at night. One of Hinman’s most popular haymaking tools is his WeatherBug mobile phone app. He routinely checks the hourly relationship between humidity, dew point and temperature. He is looking for a chance for dew, which occurs when temperature and dew point converge. “When I see that the temperature and dew point are within 6 to 8 degrees of each other, I know that a slight dew is possible,” Hinman said. “No hay is pressed before its time.”
Hinman is inviting bundles of small square orchard bales for a customer. Most of these balls of grass find their way into the Colorado horse market.
To achieve high volumes of the highest quality alfalfa, Hinman first sows 22 to 24 pounds of seed per acre with a 20 foot auger in the Great Plains. “I want to make sure there is a big booth built this first year,” he said. “I usually start sowing around May 10th and control weeds with conventional herbicides.”
Hinman only grows a limited area of alfalfa varieties (Roundup Ready and HarvXtra) because its main customer base does not request genetically modified feed. He tests many types of alfalfa himself. “I have probably 20 different varieties in our fields at the moment,” noted the experienced haymaker. “I’m pretty sure that you can harvest the highest quality hay from almost any. When producing high quality hay, two things are important: weather and cutting time. ”
Almost all of the hay is cut by Teri using a 16-foot John Deere disc mower conditioner. She also does all the raking required with an H&S twin wheel rake. Hinman has a large Massey Ferguson 2180 square baler and a small Massey Ferguson square in-line baler. Recently they have also added a bale baron to the machine line that takes the small square bales and bundles them into 21 bale blocks for ease of handling and loading.
All Hinman’s hay is picked and tested. Alfalfa is shipped to Amish goat dairies in Iowa. They charge 180 RFV or higher.
Hinman receives five to six years of production from its alfalfa stands after the year of sowing. The fields are harvested three or four times per season and yield 5 to 6 tons of dry bales per acre. If a field is harvested four times, the final pruning will be in October. This is usually the highest quality cut of the year.
The farm is located in the largest private irrigation area in the United States. So far, the availability of water from the snow-covered reservoirs has not been a restriction. Hinman will typically apply 18 to 24 inches of water per year through his pivot points. He can achieve three to four passes with the pivot point between each alfalfa cut, generally applying a total of 6 or more inches per crop.
“Our main pest problems are alfalfa weevils, grasshoppers and aphids,” noted Hinman. “We try to take soil samples every year to keep our fertility in balance. The pH value of our domestic soil is 8, so limescale formation is not a problem. ”
When the alfalfa stocks are finished, Hinman will either rent the field to a neighbor who grows sugar beet, or he will plant and harvest corn himself. When maize is grown, he lets the cattle graze on the stalks in autumn.
A unique hay market
Most of Hinman’s large square bale production, especially its high quality hay, is destined for Amish goat dairies near Kalona, Iowa. The close-knit Amish community reached out to Hardrock Farms after reading about their success in the World Forage Analysis Superbowl competition. Hinman has been selling to the Amish for almost 10 years.
Hinman explained that a typical Amish goat dairy will milk around 150 to 160 goats. “I run around 40 to 50 of these surgeries and they require their hay to test at least 180 Relative Forage Values (RFV). As a group, the Amish set up the trucks to bring the hay from our farm to Kalona, mostly using backhauls. They want all of their hay to stay in, so I bought a steel building and they came out and put it up. It was a really good relationship, ”he added.
Hinman normally stacks his large square bales outside and unarmed. “We cannot plan bales because the wind is so strong in winter that the tarpaulins are simply wiped out. Many people who move here can’t stand the quick winter winds and will move away pretty quickly or just stay in the summer. “
All Hinman’s hay is picked and tested. He always strives for top quality, but his biggest effort so far has been his entry into last year’s World Forage Analysis Superbowl. Hay that does not meet goat quality standards is sold to cattle customers.
In addition to his pure alfalfa fields, Hinman also harvests a few acres of alfalfa-grass mixes, both of which he owns and which he leases. He also has some fields of pure orchard grass, which are generally harvested as small square balls.
Small square bales make up about 15% of Hinman’s total production. “It’s basically Teri’s hobby,” he said with a smile. “There is a great demand for the small courses because nobody wants to do them anymore. We ship many of us to the Colorado horse and goat markets. “
A contest lifer
Hinman’s foray into the world of hay competitions began about 20 years ago. Each year the Wyoming State Fair hosts a hay show and competition as part of the other annual celebrations. It was here that Hinman began buying his best wares.
The organizers of the Wyoming Hay Event always send the best samples to the World Forage Analysis Superbowl in Wisconsin. Hardrock Farms, along with other hay producers in Wyoming, has consistently had successful or high profile listings in Madison. “Most of our entries are from the fourth part of the previous fall,” remarked Hinman. “The cool temperatures and slow growth usually make for the best quality forage.”
Hinman and his wife travel to Madison each year to attend the World Dairy Expo and World Forage Analysis Superbowl activities. They often stop to eat with their Amish goat milk friends in Iowa.
Whether it is a competition, an Amish goat dairy or Colorado horses, you can be sure that the hay supplied by Hardrock Farms is of the highest quality. Sure, the environment helps, but improving his lighter-making skills has been a lifetime, largely responsible for Hinman’s success. And to think that it all started at midnight in a rented alfalfa field.
This article appeared in the February 2021 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on pages 16-18.
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