Currently owned and operated by Mike and Carolyn Dalton along with their son Jade and his wife, Bailey, Dalton Hay has been a family business for several generations. Today, one of the things that sets the Daltons apart is their hay cubing business. In the early 1970s, Mike’s father, Gary, traveled to Milford Valley where he saw a hay cuber in action. It piqued his interest, and the Daltons purchased the second cuber in the state of Utah and started selling cubed hay.
Mike and his two brothers worked with his dad raising potatoes and hay as well as running a trucking business until they split the operation about five years ago, at which time Jade and Bailey returned to Circleville to join the family business. In recent years, the Daltons have focused all their crop production on hay with triticale as a rotation crop, forgoing the potato production to concentrate on their cubing business.
When the Daltons first started the cubing business, they used a field cuber. To use a field cuber, the hay is cut in windrows and the cuber pulls hay from the windrows and forms the cubes in the field, which is not the most efficient way to cube hay. “If you’re dealing with a lot of hay, you can’t field cube. It’s too slow,” said Mike. “There’s lots of maintenance to them, so anybody that’s putting up a lot of cubes is using a stationary cuber.”
As they grew their market, they needed a more efficient way to cube hay so they moved to a stationary cuber with two heads. Today, the Daltons raise about 1,000 acres of hay they chop in the field and cube at harvest time. “We cut three cuts,” said Mike. “We’re at 6,000 feet here, so we’re a little higher. It’s not a good valley to grow corn or anything like that because of the elevation, but hay does really well here, and people like this high-altitude hay.”
Due to the lower temperatures the higher elevation provides, the hay grows slower than it would in a warmer area. The slower-growing hay has more time to develop, leading to a more nutrient dense product.
According to Mike, they currently have enough demand to keep their cuber running 11 months out of the year. While they would like to increase their hay production to help meet some of that demand, land is a limiting factor, so they rely on purchasing hay from other producers. “We try to buy hay as close to home as we can, but as that hay runs out, we have to go out farther,” said Mike. “Wherever we can get the quality of hay that we need for the best price delivered, that’s what we do.”
The Daltons rely on both foreign and domestic markets when it comes to selling their cubed hay product. According to Jade, about 60% of their cubes are exported overseas, primarily to Japan. The cubes are trucked in bulk to Long Beach and then shipped to Asia.
“We have a market that my dad started years and years ago that went to Japan. We’ve been shipping hay there for a lot of years, probably since the early seventies,” said Mike. “It goes to horse people, it goes to dairies, all kinds of animals. They don’t have enough ground to grow all the hay products that they need over there.”
The rest of their production goes to their domestic market, most of which is sold direct-to-consumer and ultimately feeds horses around the Unites States including Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Texas, Arkansas and Virginia.
Although a ton of hay cubes costs more than a ton of baled hay, the cubes are easy to feed and there is very little waste, making them a popular forage delivery system among horse owners. “I’ve switched a lot of people from bales to cubes. They say they’ll never go back to a bale if they don’t have to,” said Jade. “The main reason is the horse picks at baled hay, and it falls on the ground and gets stomped into the dirt. There’s a lot of waste. Once they go to cubes, there’s no waste. They eat everything that’s there.”
The cubes are made primarily with pressure, heat and a little water. If the hay isn’t quite as good, a little bentonite is used to hold it together. The cubing process has very little waste. In fact, the Daltons even salvage small pieces of hay that come off as they load the cubes to put back through the cubing process.
People like to buy a nice green cube, so green hay is an important characteristic when it comes to cubing. They also make products with different nutritional contents to meet the differing needs of their customers. “We separate crops, and we separate what we put grass in, so we have four or five products,” said Mike. “The customer tells us what they want, and that’s what we’ll send them.”
Another advantage of the cubes is the ease of transport since they can scale down the size of what they ship based on the need. Most of their domestic cubes are sold in large super sacks that hold about a ton of hay. They also offer smaller sacks about half that size. A few customers get a loaded van trailer that they leave on-site and switch out when they’re empty. Hay that’s shipped overseas is loaded into 53’ van trailers and shipped to the port in California.
The equipment they used to harvest their potatoes is perfect for moving hay cubes, and the Daltons utilize this machinery today to load trucks and move the cubes around the yard. If they find they need another piece of machinery, they often make it themselves. “They’re very innovative when it comes to making their own equipment,” said Cody Dyreng, the Dalton’s loan officer. “For example, one customer wanted some smaller cubes that the calves could eat easier. Instead of buying the machine for this purpose, they built their own with repurposed rollers, and for a 10th of the price, they have the equipment and it works better.”
As with any crop operation, water is essential. “We have three sources of water. We have a mountain supply, the Sevier River and we have wells,” said Mike. “We’ve got it all hooked together in our system so we can put it wherever we need to.”
The Daltons minimize their pumping costs through solar panels they’ve installed on the farm. “There’s a deal through the power company, if you’re producing power, you can offset that with your power costs. Right now, we’re making power up there and building credits so when summer comes and we turn our pumps on, there won’t be a power bill,” Mike said.
In recent years, the Daltons have decreased the size of their trucking operation, but they still do a lot of trucking. “We haul a lot of turkey feed for the grow out sheds and then we have a truck that hauls hay pretty much full-time to our domestic customers,” said Jade.
Running the accounting portion of a business with all the moving parts the Daltons have is a lot of work, and Carolyn and Bailey help keep things running by managing the book keeping portion of the business. Carolyn takes care of the QuickBooks and accounts payable and Bailey does the billing, helps with technology and outlines the delivery route Jade uses on his regular trips to the Wasatch Front to deliver hay cubes.
It’s truly a family business, and they want to continue that tradition. “We hope we can continue to farm in Circleville for generations to come,” said Bailey. Jade and Bailey have two young sons, Knox and Mac. Knox loves to be on the farm, and at his young age already has a lot of interest in farming.
Ultimately, the Daltons enjoy what they do, even with the challenges farming brings. “For me, I like seeing a good patch of hay grow, and it’s always a challenge. You’ve got weather to deal with and bugs to deal with and water to deal with, so it’s always a challenge and every year is different,” said Mike.
There’s no doubt the Daltons will keep rolling with the challenges agriculture brings and adapting to find success with the resources they have available as they have for generations.