Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hauling Hay

I went with Kyle to deliver a load of hay while home this weekend. I've been wanting to document the process, and this seemed as good a time as any.

This is Kyle's semi and hay train. It's called a train because there are two trailers behind the semi. People also haul hay on other types of trailers, depending on their setup. Kyle can haul a maximum of 123,000 pounds, if everything's just right, and this load weighed in at about 72,000 pounds. His trailers hold 46 bales total. Different hay weighs different amounts, and each load's weight will fluctuate.
My dad and brother both sell and deliver hay. They charge based on miles and weight for delivery. Hay is bought and sold by the ton (1 ton is 2,000 pounds), and price varies based on any number of factors including type of hay, quality, how it was put up and how it was stored.
Just like raising cattle, producing hay is a very technical job that takes a lot of time and energy.

There are a number of things Kyle told me I had better include in my post. First was that a hay train could get stuck on a dime-sized piece of snow (that's been edited a little). This is because the tires have to be filled to high psi levels to accommodate the heavy load.
Here was the setup for the day I went with him. Dad plowed the snow down to gravel on the hill just beyond our driveway. Kyle had parked on the opposite hill so we could get a run at this hill.

The view from the truck. That brown dot on the road is the llama, soon to have his own post. After allowing the truck to warm up for a long time. We crawled in. This was the view of what was in front of us.

And this is what was behind us. You don't just stop, or take off with 72,000 pounds behind you, FYI.

Here we go, we rattled off the hill, hung a gear, narrowly missed the llama, made a wide arc onto the county road, downshifted, and made it up the hill without incident. Dad was standing by, in the tractor, to push us up the hill in case we didn't make it on our own.
Truckers also carry chains to use when they get stuck, and use them frequently.

Kyle is the best driver I know, hands down. But, when I glanced over and he was all tense like this, I immediately became tense too. But it was all fine, and we crested the hill and took off without incident.

Semi's amaze me. This is the dash. Remove your CD player and clock, and insert this maze of knobs, buttons and switches. I just want to play with all of them...but that would not be a good idea...i can just sense it.

This is the second hill that was of concern. This hill is famous among those who have driven it. You can't get a run at it, and it always has bad washboards. My dad plowed it for us too, and we made it fine, if not particularly fast, over the top. Many an oil rig, cattle pot, and miscellaneous other rigs have been stuck on this hill over the years.

From there we cruised down 19 miles of county road and about one mile of pavement to this place, where we were unloading.

We got stuck, and the owner had to push us to the location from which he wanted to unload. Another key point I'm to tell you is that each tire on a semi costs around $600, and there are over 20 on Kyle's rig.
He also commented that he gets checks for large amounts of money, but he also writes checks for large amounts of money. The expenses match the level of income in trucking. One extra expense and you go from making good money to not making anything on a load.

After stopping, Kyle whips out his handy dandy...er....pipe (I failed to get the technical name for this object), and goes to work.

He uses the pipe to release the straps on one side of the load, and pulls them free.

Then he had to shake and throw each one over the top because of the ice. Usually you just pull them off from this side. Then each strap is rolled up in a specific way, because when he straps down a new load of hay he has to be able to throw them over the top to be secured again.

You leave a hole in the middle, when you start rolling, big enough for his hand. You also roll starting with the end that doesn't have a hook. When he throws straps over a load, he will hold the hook and throw this roll, and it will unroll as it goes up and over the hay. It takes a little technique to get it right, and I've heard wind can be a major player in how successful you are.

While we were all rolling up straps, the guy who bought the hay was busy unloading, one bale at a time. Kyle said a lot of guys have big John Deere tractors and can unload two bales at a time. He said that once he had two tractors unload him, and that was awesome.
This guy has that extra bale on the back of his tractor to keep things balanced. Without it, lifting the heavy bales off the truck could tip his tractor over.

As the trucker, Kyle simply waits while the hay is unloaded. His truck also has a sleeper (area with a bed), and he spends a lot of nights in it when he's hauling.
There are a lot of rules and regulations associated with trucking, and one is you can't have an oversize load on the highway 30 minutes after sunset. So, especially in the winter months when days are shorter, Kyle kills a lot of time in this little mobile office/dorm room.

Another rule is you have to keep a log book. There are specific rules about how many consecutive hours, and how many hours a week you can be driving. This log book shows when you were driving, when your truck was just sitting somewhere, and when you were off. It has to be filled out in a specific manner, and must be maintained constantly.
There are also weight regulations, and truckers are required to stop and weigh at ports. Another note I'm supposed to tell you about is that in the winter, several thousand pounds of ice can build up on a truck. If you're overweight, you can knock this ice off. My dad knocked 7,000 pounds of ice off a load last week to get under weight. If you're overweight, you get fined. If you're not following any number of trucking related rules, you get fined. You also have to spend dead time at the port, or along the highway with the always friendly and helpful (just a little sarcasm there) DOT people.
The part of this haul I was on didn't take us by any ports, so knocking off ice and working with the people that work at the port wasn't involved this day, but is a major part of any trucking operation.
I am not even coming close to the tip of the ice burg when it comes to rules and regulations associated with trucking, and with those rules and regulations comes additional costs. These costs have to be passed on to the person you're trucking for, and are making many items significantly more expensive. My dad and brother are constantly dealing with these rules and regulations, while simultaneously trying to keep prices as affordable as possible for their customers. Several of these rules are simply ridiculous, and cause a lot of angst among truckers and people in agriculture.

We continued to wait as the rancher unloaded his hay.
This hay was chosen specifically for him based on what he wanted, and what he was feeding. It had some alfalfa, and Brome grass in it. While too coarse to be ideal for calves, this particular batch of hay was great for cows. My dad and brother work hard to find the right kind of hay for each of their customers, and spend lots of time building relationships on both ends of their business. There are countless combination's of grasses used for hay, and each combination is unique.
My dad has been doing this for a few years, and he knows who has what kind of hay, and who that hay will work, and how much is available, at all times. My brother is proving to be a great asset to the business, especially on the PR side, as he is great at visiting with people and taking time to get to know them.

After the last bale is unloaded, and stacked, the rancher pushes us out of his yard.

Like this, right past the very cows that hay was purchased to feed. Ranchers select feed for their livestock that is the best combination of nutrition and price for their specific situation. With the extended snow and cold this winter, my dad and brother have been extra busy filling hay orders the last few weeks.
My dad and brother's semis are considered our haying equipment. Some people put up hay, but we lack the grass and water resources to make that work for us, so we haul ours in. Hauling for other people helps make it more affordable for us, and diversifies our operation.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog! I really liked the pictures that you've posted in your blog. Actually, I want to become a heavy hauler so that I can drive big trucks like the truck on your blog. Anyway, thank you for sharing your post.

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