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Rancher finds niche market

Challis—The Chamberlain Ranch outside of Challis, Idaho reached a harvest milestone this past week, they got in the last of the 2019 hay crop.

“And we were able to glean a new market,” said rancher Gary Chamberlain. “This new market has absolutely taken off for us, and this year has been one of the best.”

Chamberlain runs a ranch and farms on the border of the Frank Church Wilderness. Outfitters and packers hauling hay into the wilderness are required to take certified, weed-free, hay into the backcountry. Chamberlain found a lucrative niche market in cubed, packaged hay.

“We are actually getting our hay all over the west, as far as Phoenix and California and what we are finding out from customers that have called us is that they are happy with the product. A bale of hay is so stemmy. In fact, 25 percent of the hay, or more is left in the manger, the horses won’t eat it, but with the cubes, the horses eat all of it. So even though it's more expensive, they feel it's worth it,” added Chamberlain.

Partner and wife Carol Chamberlain say she can easily lift and pack around a 60-pound bag of hay cubes.

“They’re easier to handle, you can lift one much easier than a bale of hay,” she says.

The market for specialized hay is steady right now and will remain strong going into the winter of 2020, with tighter supplies there’s money to be made off stored inventory, according to Chamberlain.

“Right now we’re selling certified hay for $90-dollars a ton, with the cubes they have to be certified to go all over the United States. We still have quite a market for the cubes for the rest of the year right into next year when we run out of the product,” said Chamberlain.

With a short growing season in Idaho’s high country, Chamberlain has found a niche crop and it's paying off on Chamberlain Farms.