Elbow Creek Hay & Feed is a family owned feed and supply store in Big Spring, Texas. The store was started in 2013 as a way to market the alfalfa and other types of hay that are grown here at our farm. The concept for the store came from a hay customer that was having to go to three different stores to get the feed and hay that she needed for her animals. We wanted to make sure that customers could come to one place to get everything they needed. We have focused on feed and hay grown and processed in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The store also caters to the area 4-H and FFA groups during stock show season by carrying the feed and supplies that they need. Our greatest strength in the store is our customer service. If you are looking for it we can track it down and have it shipped in!
The country life may not be easy, but can be very rewarding.
For most of their marriage, Hugh and Nancy Raney have been farming together — 13 of their 18 years to be exact. This year, they decided to change it up a bit and go from irrigated cotton to hay farming.
“Both of our families have been involved in farming and when we were given the opportunity to farm, in ’99, we took it,” Nancy Raney said.
Hugh’s family had been involved in both cotton and hay farming, with an uncle still running a hay farm. Nancy’s father also maintained and operated a hay farm — the farm which is now Raney Hay Farms — when she was a child.
Starting up, the Raney’s had five acres of alfalfa hay which has grown to 50 acres and now also includes 230 acres of wheat hay grazer and coastal hay. All of their irrigated cotton acres have been turned into hay fields.
“The cost (for irrigated cotton) was just getting to be too high,” Nancy said. “There are less inputs (expenses) into hay farming and the demand is higher.”
She continued, “Cotton farming is a monoculture and something that people tend to get stuck in. It is a cycle that can be very hard to get out of, which is one of the reasons why we decided to switch gears. It had it’s obstacles, but in the end it’s a better fit for us.”
With the recent drought conditions, farming has become a hard way of life for many area farmers. The constant dust blowing and failure of crops served as a major turning point in the Raney’s decision.
“One positive thing about this switch is to be able to look outside and not see any dust blowing. When all the fields around you have dirt blowing up and you can look into your field and not see all that blowing around makes you feel good,” Hugh said.
Work hours are unlike that of any other job. There isn’t a set start or end time and the door is never closed. On a normal day, Hugh will be out in the field from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., but when it comes time to cut, he will be cutting and baling hay at 3 a.m. if need be. The doorbell rings from morning until night with most of the business coming after 5 p.m.
“There are times when I have been working in the field all day and finally sit down to relax and the doorbell will ring,” Hugh said. “It is those times when you are just exhausted that you question what you do, but then realize you wouldn’t change it because you are your own boss and after all this is your business and what brings food to the table and provides for the family.”
Nancy added, “In this business you are working with other people’s schedule and the reality of it is, that usually means business picks up after 5 p.m. Most of these people have animals as a hobby or side and they get off their other job and then are able to work with the animals and get the hay they need.”
Despite the long, never-ending hours, the joy received from a successful crop renews the confidence and the reasoning behind the lifestyle.
“It’s about having pride in what you are doing. You just have to keep going and realize that sometimes you will have good years and remember there will be some bad years as well,” Hugh said.
“There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Nancy adds. “This is a one man working operation, but at the same time we, as a family, are all involved.”
Being a hay farmer isn’t an easy life by no means, but one the Raney’s wouldn’t trade for anything.
Hugh’s day usually consists of checking pumps on irrigation units, tending to the small herd of cow and hauling and loading hay for customers.
Nancy helps drive the truck, load hay and fills in wherever is needed. Their eldest daughter, Samantha, has helped work in the fields and the youngest daughter Gracie hands out business cards.
“This has it’s ups and downs, long hours and several demands, but at the same time, it has given us something we can do as a family and after all that’s what really matters.”
However, when it comes time to cut — which happens about seven times a year — the work day is round-the-clock. In order to make a cutting the humidity has to be just right, which is usually about 3 a.m.
“Every 30 days we make a cut and by the time that happens we have customers waiting to pick it up,” Nancy said.
Customers at the Raney Hay Farm aren’t only locals. They travel from as far as the Forth Worth area, San Angelo and other surrounding areas.
“The customers are another blessing associated with the farm life,” Nancy said. “A while back we had our cows get out and one of our customers — a new customer at that — went home grabbed his four wheeler and came back to help us gather the cows and then worried about getting his hay. You can’t beat the kindness you see in the farm life.”
In the process of seeing random acts of kindness, customers also become friends and some even like family. Several customers have been loyal over the years, including their longest customer — John De La Garza — who has been a customer since Nancy’s father was running the hay farm.
“One thing that truly touched my heart was when he told me one day that my dad would be really proud that we are back in the hay business,” Nancy said. “It’s the little things like that that mean a lot.”
Even though family time on the Raney farm isn’t lacking, vacations are something that are very few and far between.
Hay farming is a business that is always at peak season, unlike cotton farming. According to Nancy, cotton farming has those three or four months that require all your time, but hay farming is always demanding that time.
“The demand for hay has risen and it is something that remains in high demand year round,” Nancy said. “In the summer is the busiest time, when most people would be going on vacation, we are here planting in order to get the crop ready for next year.”
Pricing is another factor that has seemed to remain constant at the Raney’s farm. In recent years, due to the drought and other unfavorable conditions hay prices have seemed to skyrocket. However, Hugh and Nancy said their prices remained the same.
“One thing we have learned is that if you can keep your customers happy and help accommodate them in the hard times, then when the crop is plentiful the customers will still be there.”
“One thing is certain, you aren’t going to get rich doing this by any means. You are actually more likely to get into debt, but it’s worth it,” Hugh said.
The newest adventure for the farm is the addition of Elbow Creek Hay & Feed. This will serve as a retail outlet for the hay with the addition of feed and animal health supplies.
Article written by Amanda Moreno Staff Writer for Big Spring Herald