Featured Farmer: Tanse and Tonya Herrmann
A search for top quality hay for their own horses has grown into a busy and successful business serving horse owners across the Black Hills and northeast Wyoming for Tanse and Tonya Herrmann of Whitewood, South Dakota.
In 2012, the Herrmanns were looking for small square bales of hay to feed horses as they traveled to rodeo competitions. Due to significant drought conditions and low production that year, they didn’t find any in their local area, so Tanse traveled to Timber Lake to purchase some bales from a friend. They sold the extra bales they didn’t need (primarily to cover the cost of repairing the borrowed trailer they used for transporting), and the idea for The Hay Shed business was born. They began by buying several hundred small square bales at a time to fill their barn loft, selling those to other horse owners, then re-stocking again.
“We were uniquely equipped to serve the horse market because we were and are our own customers. At the start of our business we set high expectations for quality and what we wanted the end product to be,” said Tonya. “We own all of the hay we stock, and it comes to our yard before it is sold. We offer a guarantee to our customers and are careful that anything we sell, we would be willing to feed to our own horses.”
The Herrmanns also began to purchase equipment to be able to raise and put up hay from their own acreage and land they farm on a share agreement with neighbors. They currently stock all sizes of small and large square and round bales and have an inventory year-round to serve horse owners in the region.
“We learned a lot as we started to raise our own hay crops, with our focus on quality over quantity,” said Tanse. Cutting the hay at the right maturity level is key to the nutritional quality of the product. Baling at the right moisture level and providing protection from the elements is critical in storing any hay, especially square bales…which aren’t square at all, they are more rectangular in nature.
The Herrmanns focus most of their own production on small square bales and smaller round bales, especially four-foot wide round bales that can fit in the back of a smaller size pickup truck and be moved by homeowner-sized equipment or even by hand.
“About 85 to 90 percent of our customers are purchasing a small amount of hay in a pickup or on a flatbed trailer at a time,” said Tanse.
They see their role as unique in making the connection between farmers and ranchers and the horse owners that are their customers. They only produce about 10% of the total volume they sell, so have a trusted network of hay growers and truck drivers to make sure The Hay Shed is stocked for their variety of customers. Their experience and expertise in agriculture provides the perfect foundation.
Tanse grew up in Chamberlain, South Dakota, and earned a degree in Ag Education from South Dakota State University. Tonya grew up on a crop and hog farm in southwestern Minnesota and also attended SDSU. After graduation, Tanse began working with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Belle Fourche, Sturgis, and now has an office in Rapid City. After commuting the 400 miles between Belle Fourche and Brookings to see each other for awhile, Tonya transferred to Black Hills State University to complete her degree and continue college rodeo.
They were married in 2004 and have two children: Tully, 13, and Tayzi, 10.
“We are still our own customers, with our own horses and competing in rodeo events,” said Tonya. They serve horse owners in a variety of disciplines from rodeo competitors, endurance riders, hobby trail riders, as well as kangaroos, and have even provided hay to elephants when the circus was in town, and to the tortoises at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City. They also sell straw and a special high quality roasted grain for horses, “Roasted to Perfection.”
Tanse now serves as the state grazing lands soil health specialist for South Dakota NRCS, focusing on outreach and education to share the importance of soil health and practices that farmers and ranchers can take to improve and advance soil health on their own land. He speaks to students from kindergarten through college, as well as training K-12 educators and works with an extensive network of partners such as South Dakota Grassland Coalition, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, Pheasants Forever, US Fish & Wildlife Service Partners Program, and many more.
“As partners in conservation, we don’t all pursue the same things in the same way, but we all believe that productive, healthy soils are achieved through purposed decision-making and management at the field scale,” said Tanse. One of his favorite parts of the role is the rainfall simulator that demonstrates the value of soil health principles like having plant residue and living roots in fields to minimize water runoff and wind erosion. “Seeing is believing. There are lots of folks who have begun to turn the wheels of change on their own operations after seeing these demonstrations and examples.”
Hay operations can be difficult to advance soil health because aggressively cutting or raking the hay prior to baling can disturb the soils, making them more prone to erosion. In addition, hay crops are often a monoculture with one crop species in the field for a season or more which can be troublesome when attempting to enhance soil health, said Tanse.
The Herrmanns have adopted a number of practices on their own hay fields such as not disturbing the soil when raking hay, planting multiple species of grasses, monitoring soil for nutrient fertility levels and organic matter. These are consistent with five principles of soil health — soil armor, minimizing soil disturbance, maximum plant diversity, live roots year-round, and integrating livestock — which must be applied in ways that meet each farm or ranch’s specific geography, soil, and management needs