The familiar saying, ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ is more than just an old adage to the Schaefer family.
It describes the ideal conditions for harvesting their living and continuing what has become a family tradition raising and selling hay not only in their neck of the woods, Beecher City and the surrounding counties, but also for customers as far away as Florida, Arkansas, and Missouri.
They have provided hay for some of the very finest horse race champions.
You might say the name Schaefer is almost synonymous with the word hay in some areas.
The continuous rains have made it difficult for area farmers to get into their fields to plant this springs crops or to get hay cut, dried, baled and put up.
Last Friday, the Schaefer crew was working hard, trying to beat a storm predicted for that afternoon and save a field of hay. The cut hay lying in this particular field was being baled into small bales, picked up, taken to a shed, and finally unloaded and stacked, safely out of any damage the expected rain would have wrought. Another nearby field was being baled into large round bales.
In spite of the urgency in completing the job, the Schaefers stopped long enough to explain the equipment that was making the task possible-a hay wagon. This hay wagon, which is pulled by a tractor, follows right behind the baler, automatically picking up the bales, loading them onto the wagon and stacking them neatly and securely.
One hundred and five bales were picked up, loaded, stacked, unloaded and stacked in the shed, without being touched by human hands, and in record time 20 minutes. Its a far cry from bucking bales or doing all of the above by hand.
Meet the Schaefer family: Dave, Evan and Ryan.
Turning the soil,
28 years ago
Dave Schaefer began the business of growing and selling hay 28 years ago. His son, Evan, grew up in the business, and Evans son, Ryan, admits that he could hardly wait to join his grandpa and dad in the family project.
All three share an affectionate teasing, but respectful, rapport; are friendly and courteous, and all seem to be content in their family business. Their manner is modest and unassuming, in spite of their very successful hay market business.
Dave has a striking resemblance to a young Abe Lincoln. He also displays a droll sense of humor in his conversation, He claims that he retired and has turned the work over to the younger ones.
I drive the truck sometimes, and I mow the hay, because the hay bine is air-conditioned. However, his grandson, Ryan, said his grandfather still does a lot to help them.
Dave was not from a farming family. His dad worked at the Wood River Shell Refinery, and he explained with his droll sense of humor, how he wound up in Beecher City.
Its a long, sad, story. I was a traveling salesman for a chemical company, and they sent us to Effingham. I did that for 13 years, and you get burned out as a salesman.
But I had an easy product to sell, Atrazine, the leading herbicide for corn, and a lot of other products. A real estate agent brought us over here (Beecher City), he said
He said he had a good deal on some land. I called on dairy farmers every day, as a salesman. They bought most of their hay in Wisconsin for $120 a ton.
I happened to think, I could probably raise alfalfa and sell it for $120.00 a ton. So, for the next 25 years, I sold it for $120 a ton, he said.
Now, since I retired, the price has doubled, Dave said.
Evan, happily and willingly, began helping at an early age. Dave said, again humorously, He got out of Lake Land (College) and he didnt have a job, and I couldnt handle it, so
Daves son and grandson just grew into the business as the business grew.
Evan majored in agriculture production and management. Displaying his dads sense of humor, he said, That helped me figure out why I was doing this, I guess. I was still living at home when I got out of college, so I didnt have a choice.
Evan began working at the business when he was about 14, when we started really getting serious about it. However, he was actually about 7 when he wanted to help dad in the hayfields.
He laughingly said his son, Ryan, started working in the family business when he was barely out of diapers.
We just grew up in it, not knowing any better. We just fell into it.
However, he added, Dad didnt get this new hay wagon until I was 18. I had to do it the hard way all those years.
Ryan, a pleasant and engaging young man, actually began driving a tractor and raking when he was about 10 years old.
I could hardly wait, he said. He chose not to go to college after high school.
No schoolin, he said. They (grandpa and dad) went to college, and they can tell me what I need to know. (Dave had attended college in Carbondale).
Ryan plans to continue on in the family hay project. I dont have a whole lot of options, he said, laughing. He lives in a house nearby.
Standing 6 foot 3 inches, he resembles his grandfather, but doesnt yet have his Abe Lincoln appearance.
Keeping up with changes & progress
Although the Schaefers conversation and mannerisms indicate laid-back and easy-going attitudes, they are very knowledgeable and intelligently informed.
For the first 20 years, I had to advertise for 150 miles around, Dave said. I used all kinds of sales techniques that other businesses used, such as direct mail, where they get their customer lists, etc., so I copied off of them.
It was all small, square bales back then. Now, things have completely turned around, he said.
Instead of a buyers market, its a sellers market now, because most casual hay producers have plowed it up and put it in corn and soybeans. It just leaves a few hay-growers.
Dave admits that he likes the hay business better than being a salesman, but, All the sales training is probably what made me successful in the hay business, he said.
Machinery has changed tremendously. We now use bale wagons now instead of high school boys, like we did when we started. Now, more than half our business is the big bales, loaded and unloaded with the tractor. But all of our farm is put up in small squares yet.
Evan said, We try to raise the hay that people want, that other people dont raise, so we have a market for it. Most of ours is alfalfa and orchard grass, and straight Timothy.
Were still doing the small squares, but we have the large squares for our dairy customers. We have growers around the state that grow the big squares for us. We go get them and deliver them when needed. The big squares are easier than the little ones, because everything is done with the tractor, he said.
Evan remembers loading the little bales by hand on the wagon. I always liked doing that, Evan said. Now, we have a wagon that picks up the bales, one at a time, stacks them on the wagon. We can get 105 bales from the field and stacked in the barn in 20 minutes.
The Woman behind the men
From the spotlessly clean, efficient and attractive kitchen in the lovely panoramic view home that she shares with husband Dave, Sharon provides bountiful meals for her family and hay workers.
Food such as homemade chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, chicken and dressing, and homemade pies is set on the kitchen table for all to enjoy. For her part in the family operation, she said, Im the cook. I feed the whole hay crew (four or five) every day at noon.
Her youthful appearance belies the fact that she is a grandma to a 22 year-old grandson. Besides her home duties, she also works part-time at Country Peddler Craft Mall in Effingham.
She is appreciated by her family. Sharons cooking is the only way we can get hay help, Ryan said. Evan agreed, Nobody else makes dessert any more, so they all come to work for us so they can get pie and dessert. Ryan added, She is what keeps us going.
Daves Branson Connection
Dave and Sharon go to Branson, Mo., about once a month for the Gene Williams Show, a western music television show. Dave and Gene have become good friends.
Williams bought an expensive Abe Lincoln outfit and sometimes coaxes Dave to appear on the show as Abe.
We had seen the show on TV, Dave said. These days, its really the only country show on. We went down there one time and got addicted to it. He puts me on once in a while playing Abe Lincoln. Hes a handful, Dave said of Williams.
David Schafer serves on the Illinois Forage and Grassland Council Board of Directors.
The Schafers were featured in the March 2008 issue of Farm Journal, a well-known magazine publication.
Aside from the teasing, it is obvious that Dave, Evan, and Ryan enjoy working together in the family business, are close as a family, appreciate one another andare (thankfully) now making hay while the sun shines.