Alumni ProfileBecky Huizinga Dechert '89
A full and hapyp life---in hay

Decherts

“Growing up in suburban Detroit,” Becky Huizinga Dechert ’89 said, “I never felt like I was in the right place.”

Now, when she and her 12-year-old daughter, Annika, ride their horses to the top of Lost Wells Butte in central Wyoming and look down on their 700-acre alfalfa farm, Dechert feels at home.

Thanks to the Midvale Irrigation District, built in the 1930s, the nutrient-rich soil gives the Decherts high crop yields. And thanks to annual rainfall of less than 10 inches, the alfalfa can be processed into forage feed in a highly economical shape. Instead of bales—large or small, round or rectangular—picture hay in cubes about the size of ice cubes.

The Decherts do bale their hay in what Becky calls “monster bales” of 1,600 pounds each. That’s husband Jerry’s job. “Once it’s baled,” she explained, “I go through the field with a loader, like a big backhoe, and stack the bales on top of each other. They have to be evenly stacked, so there’s a little trick to it. It’s a lot of fun.”

A semi then hauls the stacked monster bales to a stationary cuber. About the size of a boxcar, the cuber grinds the hay, compresses it (using a little water), then spits it out as dense cubes. Not only is 20 percent less hay lost between the field and the feed trough, the cubes deliver about 5 percent more protein per feeding, so farmers use less and need no additives. The compact cubes are easier to store and handle, and because the hay is grown in a desert, it’s free of the mold and dust that plague farmers in wetter climates.

Jerry Dechert’s father has been selling hay cubes by the semi load to cattle growers in the West since the 1970s. (Before that his grandfather sold the traditional bales.) Cattle growers are still the Decherts’ primary customers. But now their market also includes a very different kind of livestock owner.
“We noticed more people getting into hobby farming,” Becky explained. “So Jerry’s dad got the idea to pack the cubes in 50-pound bags and sell them to feed stores. Once we began to do that, people started searching us out. Now we ship all over the country. We have a client in Kentucky who sells the bags to racehorse barns. In Kentucky, they can raise alfalfa, but it’s way too wet to cube. The higher protein content of hay cubes makes a big difference to a mare in foal or to a racehorse.”

The success of their farm and business, Becky feels, is due in part to the education they all bring to the operation. Through three generations, Dechert farmers have been college-educated; her husband has a PhD and she a master’s degree.

“When my husband left his teaching job at a large university to farm, people said, ‘What a waste.’ Well, we’ve put our educations to good use. But more importantly, we’ve created a good life here. We eat three meals a day together, and both of us can go to watch our daughter play volleyball, as can her grandparents. This lifestyle has given me abundant opportunities to live a full life.”

To learn more about the Decherts’ hay cubes, see wyominghaycubes.com.