AYER’S CLIFF, Que. — Extra hay and plenty of labour were crucial to the Bouffard family’s entry into the export business.
Alain and Pauline Bouffard’s 12 children gave them a built-in work force on the family dairy farm, while a year with extra hay started their foray into marketing.
What started locally as a way to sell the excess to the neighbours has blossomed into a business that sells 400,000 bales of hay a year from their Quebec farm to more than 100 clients in the United States from New England to Florida.
The dairy cattle are now gone. In their place are beef cows, a beef feedlot, a cattle trucking company,a small butcher shop for processing meat and a large hay production company that grows and sells high-quality hay on 3,000 acres.
Most of the family’s income comes from export hay, Alain said through a translator during a farm tour.
Bernard Bouffard, 35, one of the children, said export sales began modestly with a pick-up truck loaded with sample bales and a trip to the U.S. to find potential buyers.
The family eventually bought a Cardinal bale and stacking system as demand grew for top-quality hay. The machine and an attached trailer will stack 18 bales at once before they are dumped and then brought back to the farmyards.
The Bouffards now have six Cardinal machines, and their best hay day was cutting and stacking 22,000 bales.
Two dehumidifiers play a crucial role. They are a type of dryer that pushes hot air through the bales and allows moisture to be removed and mould potential eliminated.
“It allows us to produce hay,” said Alain.
Hay is ideally baled at 15 to 20 percent moisture or lower. Hay baled at 20 percent moisture can be reduced to 12 percent moisture in eight hours with the dryer.
“That was our saviour,” said Alain.
They have baled hay at 40 percent moisture, but it takes about two days to dry. About 25,000 bales a year are put through the electric dryer.
The family bought a hay macerator in 2008, which conditions the hay and speeds drying,
Alain said they prefer to cut hay at about 5 p.m. and return the next morning with the macerator. If the weather is good, the hay can be baled by 2 p.m. and loaded on trucks ready to be shipped to the U.S.
“That is how we keep the colour,” he said.
Moisture from the dew and bleaching from the sun fades the hay and makes it less desirable.
“The colour of hay is important.”
A larger client base has forced the Bouffards to build additional hay storage on their four farm locations, which can accommodate 225,000 to 250,000 square bales. The bales are classified by colour and quality in the storage sheds as they come off the field.
The family also built a special trailer loader that allows 18-bale flats to be pushed into long trailers with a tractor.
It takes 45 minutes to load 800 to 875 bales into a trailer.
The family grows 3,000 acres of timothy, alfalfa and alfalfa grass hay, mostly for the horse market.
Owning their own trucks has helped maintain good customer relations. The truck driver can usually solve any problems when the hay is delivered.
Much of the hay goes to horse owners with 25 to 30 head. The rest is sold to feed stores, which store it and resell it to smaller horse customers.
The family also has a Charolais cow herd and finishes 500 head of beef cattle a year in their covered feedlot, which was once a dairy barn.
Wet weather keeps the animals indoors during winter. Cows and calves are on one side of the barn and feedlot cattle are on the other side.
The lack of a cattle slaughter facility in Quebec forced the Bouffards to buy a small butcher shop to sell meat from their feedlot.
They also have a cattle trucking business to ship cull cows from Quebec auction markets to the JBS slaughter facility in Pennsylvania. They truck about 400 cows a week to the U.S. facility.