Louth finds success with custom hay baling business

Jake Louth and his son, Eli, greet the 15 cows on their farm south of Fairfield. Louth said all of them have been raised on the farm since their birth. (Andy Hallman/The Union)

FAIRFIELD — Jake Louth raises cattle on his farm south of Fairfield, and in recent years he has found his groove in providing custom hay baling.

Louth has invested in special equipment for the business such as pieces that cut mow the hay, chop it and wrap it into bales. Louth has built the business from the ground up, serving cattle producers in Jefferson, Van Buren, Wapello, Henry and Keokuk counties.

The hay baling business has been going well, and Louth said he could add another chopping baler with the number of customers he has now. At the same time, he is involved in other businesses, too.

“I really enjoy the cattle and the custom hay side. That’s my passion,” Louth said. “I would like to expand it as far as it will go, and I’m going to read the market and expand as necessary.”

Louth grew up in Birmingham in Van Buren County. He graduated from Indian Hills Community College and worked for an ag research farm in Richland. He and his wife were able to put together a small cattle operation.

While working for the ag research farm, Louth was hired at Sinclair Tractors, then called Precision Equipment, working as a solutions specialist on GPS equipment. Meanwhile, he kept working at his cattle herd, and in 2013, decided to do that full time. His operation has undergone many changes, from a cow-calf focus to raising animals in a feedlot, then back to cow-calf, and now a mix of both.

At first, Louth was using old equipment to bale hay, but he decided to invest in new hay baling pieces. To pay for the expense, he started doing custom hay baling for other farmers, and the business grew. He mows the hay, rakes it and puts it into bales. Today, Louth serves an area within a 30- to 40-mile radius of Fairfield.

“My wife and I did everything for ourselves,” Louth said. “We started off with rented ground, a rented shop, rented everything. It’s been a struggle, but we’ve made it, and we’re going forward.”

A couple of the specialty pieces of equipment Louth has include a chopping baler, which takes a long-stem crop and compresses it into a hay bale. It can do this to rye cover crop, alfalfa, grass and even corn. It takes a crop with a 3-4 foot stalk and chops it into 3-inch long pieces, which are more palatable for cattle.

Another piece of equipment is the bale wrapper, which takes wet hay, rolls it and turns it into a big white tube. When heated, this becomes silage. Louth said silage is a better feed for cattle than dry hay because its wetness allows cattle to eat more of it. They’re not having to stop to drink water all the time. More feed means the animal can put on mass quicker.

Louth estimates that he spends about 70 percent of his time in the summer on his custom hay baling business, when the cows are on pasture and he has fewer feeder calves than in the fall and winter. He employs one full-time person and two to three part-time employees.

“Silage bales have to be hauled to where they’ll be wrapped, and that takes a lot of manpower,” Louth said.

Louth also earns money by leasing a big manure spreader to farmers who would rather rent one than own one.

Louth joined the board of the Jefferson County Cattlemen and has been its president. He said one reason he joined the board was to help other farmers who are trying to get into the industry.

“It’s so hard to get started in ag,” he said. “I love seeing success stories and helping people move forward because I know it’s not easy.”

Jake Louth and son, Eli, stand next to the family’s swather, also known as a windrower, used to mow hay. (Andy Hallman/The Union)
Jake Louth and son Eli show off their chopping baler, a farm implement that takes long-stemmed crops and compresses them into a hay bale. (Andy Hallman/The Union)
Jake Louth and his 18-month-old son, Eli, enter the pasture where the family has 15 cows. Louth said when the cattle are transferred to pasture, “They see the green grass and go crazy,” and that they don’t want to eat anything else. (Andy Hallman/The Union)
Cows graze on pasture at the Louth farm south of Fairfield. Jake Louth runs Louth Cattle Company, which includes his livestock and custom hay baling operations. (Andy Hallman/The Union)
This farm implement is a bale wrapper, which puts wet hay into a plastic tube. This becomes silage, which is more palatable to cattle than dry hay, allowing them to eat more of it and gain mass faster. (Andy Hallman/The Union)