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Launching a Custom-Hay Business

Bryan and Zach Otott were just 14 and 12 years old when, for some reason, they got the idea they should have a business of their own. There was, of course, no shortage of work on their farm near Washington, Kansas, owned by parents Jeff and Nancy Otott.

Maybe it was something telling them to get an early start at saving for college. Or, maybe it was simply lessons learned while working alongside their family in the growing of 800 acres of crops and the raising of 300 cow-calf pairs.

Long story short: The Otott brothers run Otott Custom Haying. Each summer, they put up some 2,000 big round bales of hay and straw for customers as far as 15 miles from their home farm. They’ve been at the business for five years.

The money they earn gets added to income from the cattle they own. Most money then gets put away for college.

The funds are already hard at work for Bryan, who is an ag economics student at Kansas State University. Zach plans to head off to K-State, too, majoring in Agribusiness.

Starting the Business

Settling on the idea of custom haymaking as a business enterprise took some brainstorming. Two sound principles guided their eventual choice of business: They searched for a niche that would meet an unfulfilled need and for work that suited their skills.

“At the start, we tried to think what it was that people didn’t like to do,” Zach says. “So we started out by cutting down trees and cleaning up pastures by ripping out volunteer trees with our parents’ skid loader.”

They also began to realize that many people didn’t have the equipment for harvesting hay, or that they didn’t like the work of putting up hay. “From working on our family farm, we knew how to put up hay,” says Zach.

So they turned their focus to haymaking. Equipment was available to them by borrowing it either from their parents or from their uncle. Bryan had, at times, run the baler for his uncle during previous haying seasons.

To get their first customers, they made a few phone calls and hung flyers in local businesses.

Soon, they began getting requests to put up hay, and word-of-mouth then carried the advertising.

“We keep getting more and more customers, and our business just keeps on growing,” says Bryan.

Calling the Shots

After getting their first orders for haying, their father bought them a tractor and round baler, purchases which they’ve been repaying. They use their father’s swather for cutting the hay and repay him with an exchange of farm labor.

The brothers take responsibility for servicing and repairing the machinery.

“We charge our customers a per-bale fee for baling,” says Bryan. “The bales are net-wrapped and are about 66 inches in diameter. For swathing, we charge by the hour because of the large amount of waterways we swath. These, along with the differing stands of hay we cut, cause slower travel and more time put into that job.”

Young as they are, the brothers call all the shots in their business. They take their customers’ orders and lay out the schedule for a haying season that runs from May through August.

Some customers, like dairy producers, have time-sensitive alfalfa to put up, starting in May. With Bryan at college in late spring, Zach juggles haying with high school.

Monitoring moisture conditions in alfalfa fields leaves little time for leisurely activities, but Zach doesn’t mind. “My dad always told me, ‘If you’re sitting in a tractor seat, you’re staying out of trouble,’ ” he says.

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