July 2006
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It's Hip to be Square, for Hay

by Susie Sims

  Marion County hay producer Butch Frye stands in his new barn which accommodates his bale wagon.
Many folks in this part of the world have spent time doing that often-dreaded summertime chore — making hay. While many country kids have tried to weasel their way out of this necessity of farm work, Butch Frye has found himself trying to do more.

Frye, 60, was reared in Lineville, but spent his summers with his grandparents in Marion County.

"I would come to the farm the day after school let out," recalled Frye. "And I wouldn’t go home until the day before school started."

Frye liked the farm life so much that he spent his sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade years living with his grandparents near Guin.

He went home to Lineville and graduated high school. He worked for the railroad until January 1973.

After leaving the railroad, Frye returned to the farm permanently, where he worked with his grandfather until 1984, when he took over the operation.

Frye kept with the family tradition of trading with the Marion County Co-op in Hamilton.

"(Manager) Steve (Lann) has really helped me with my business," said Frye. "He is always there and willing to find the answers I need. All of the employees at the Co-op are really helpful."

Lann was the recipient of this year’s E.P. Garrett Award, which is commonly known as Manager of the Year.

While many folks are constantly looking for the best deal within 100 miles, Frye tends to stick close to home.

"I am a firm believer in buying locally," he said. "I figure I get 95 percent of my supplies from the Co-op in Hamilton. The rest comes from a store here, in Guin."
Hay producer Butch Frye explains how the bale feeder has cut down on the time it takes to unroll round bales and rebale them into squares.  
Square Bales for Sale

Like most folks, Frye began producing hay for his own cattle. Word spread about his quality hay and its availability in square bales.

That’s right—square bales. Frye uses his 50 acres of Tifton 44 Bermuda grass to produce more than 15,000 square bales during a season.

"During an average year, I yield 100 bales to the acre," estimated Frye. "We aim for four cuttings each year, but usually settle for three."

Asked how he manages to produce, haul, and store square bales, Frye said it wouldn’t be possible without the modern equipment he uses.

"My grandfather could find help easily when it came time to work hay," recalled Frye. "He could walk through town and come home with enough young boys to make quick work of the hay."
Frye noted most young folks today are not interested in the sporadic work that comes with making hay.

He has a bale wagon with a capacity of 105 bales. It neatly stacks the hay in the barn.

Frye recently built a new barn that easily accommodates the bale wagon.

"We only need help when we have to stack about 1,000 bales in the loft of the old barn," said Frye.

The "we" in his hay operation is Frye and his 16-year-old daughter, Lauren.

Frye said his son, Mike, used to be his right-hand man until he took a job at the Mercedes plant last year.

"I wasn’t sure what I was going to do without Mike to help in the field," said Frye. "I asked Lauren if she was willing to give it a go and she was."

Frye said she is an excellent tractor driver and that she is capable of doing all things related to making hay, even though she has one least-favorite job.

"She doesn’t like to ted the hay," he said. "She says that’s boring."

Frye sells most of his hay to local horse owners, although he sells it by the trailer load to a place in Tennessee—500 bales at a time.

Recognized for Quality Hay

Frye said he always believed he raised good quality hay but he never had any proof until last October.

"Bobby Wallace, from the Extension office, wanted me to test my hay and enter it in a contest at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga.," Frye said. "I agreed and won second place."

Frye said winning second place in the hay contest will keep him returning to the Expo for years to come.

"(The Expo) is truly something to see," he recalled. "I wish everyone could see it just once. I was just like a kid at the circus."

Even if it’s not entered in a contest, Frye urged all producers to have their hay tested for nutritional value. He noted that it’s nice to know that all that hard work to produce the hay yields a better product.

Spring Weather Slows Down Bermuda

This spring’s weather put a damper on Frye’s first cutting, he said.

"This spring has been awful," he said. "We had May weather in April and I got excited and got ready to go make hay. Then we had a cool May, which was bad for Bermuda."

Frye estimated that his first cutting yielded only half of what he normally gets.

"Bermuda likes heat and moisture," said Frye. "The cool May weather really shut it down."

A Way to Make Square Bales in the Winter

Frye came home from the Sunbelt Expo with more than a good finish in the hay contest.

He went looking for contraption to fit on a tractor’s three-point hitch that would unroll a round bale of hay. What he found was a bale feeder.

"This thing is great—just what I needed," said Frye. "I sometimes run out of square bales before the winter is over and the bale feeder lets me rebale round bales into square bales."

Frye uses the bale feeder to unroll extra round bales of hay. He said the feeder lays the hay out in a perfect windrow.

"It used to take me two hours to unroll and bale 100 squares," recalled Frye. "Now, with the bale feeder, it takes me less than one hour."

Other Interests

Frye’s grandfather got the family started in the cattle business. Cattle are what got Frye involved with the local Farmers Federation.

"I sold all my cattle in the early spring," said Frye. "I have some fence work to do, and then I plan to have cattle again."

Frye also has a "regular" job. He has worked for the Northwest Alabama Gas District for 26 years. He is the serviceman for the Guin area.

He is married to the former Jeanette Foster of Lineville. They have four children.

Frye said his family enjoys going to Auburn football games, when the hay business doesn’t get in the way.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.