Farming is in his blood, or at least in his family’s heritage. Nicholas’ grandparents farmed, as did his great-grandparents, so when Nicholas’ family moved from Minnesota to Casper, Wyoming, they also bought a farm. Nicholas says, “When I was 9 years old, I got a chance to operate the machinery, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m just the next generation.”
Nicholas’ dad, Jason, works full-time for the county, and his mother, Elizabeth, works as a pharmacist at a local hospital. That leaves plenty of opportunity to involve Nicholas on 300 acres of hay ground. Nicholas and his father grow alfalfa, orchardgrass and mixed alfalfa-orchardgrass hay. All fields are under pivot or wheel line irrigation.
But this isn’t just a feel-good story about a 13-year-old who likes to farm. This is about an eighth grade youth who produced award-winning hay at the World Forage Analysis Superbowl, held in Madison, Wisconsin, against some very stiff competition.
It’s true that Wyoming hay has topped the commercial hay category for years at the Madison contest – taking home no less than seven of the top 20 spots in the 2016 contest. It’s tough to beat irrigated Western alfalfa hay. So for many Wyoming entries to even make it to the Madison contest, they first undergo rigorous competition at the Wyoming state fair.
Nicholas says, “Last year, I started entering hay in contests. The only reason I started doing it was because we had a lot of hay and I needed to get it sold. I didn’t do too well that year. Then last year I tucked some bales away and got into this year’s contest at the state fair, and won the state fair.” Winning the state fair was his ticket to the Madison contest, where he placed 10th in the commercial hay category. These were his 2016 test results:
Madison contest organizer, Dan Undersander, forage specialist with University of Wisconsin, says scoring is also based 30 percent on visual appearance (to prevent harvest stage manipulation), and 25-pound samples are required instead of 1-pound bags to increase sample integrity. This year’s contest had 373 total entries submitted in eight forage categories, representing 24 states and provinces, including entries in the new organic hay category. Winners were announced at an awards luncheon during World Dairy Expo, sponsored by Mycogen Seeds.
Nicholas says he’s aware that if he wants to place higher as a finalist, he’ll have to improve the RFQ (relative feed quality) of his hay. He says, “I want to take third cutting, too, because it’ll have a higher relative forage quality. That’s what made me go down in the World Forage Analysis Superbowl is because my relative forage quality wasn’t as high. I don’t know how to perfect that – I know the higher the number, the better.” He has corralled some resources to help him learn more about that. Nicholas says Scott Keith, executive director of the newly formed Wyoming Hay and Forage Association, has been instrumental in helping him learn how to store his hay and has helped him navigate contest procedures, and can be a resource to teach him how to increase RFQ.
Nicholas puts up 60-pound small square bales and markets mainly to horse owners in the Casper area. He says, “Customers just love the alfalfa-grass mix. It’s 70 percent alfalfa and 30 percent grass, and they love it. We sell mostly to one customer at a time. Sometimes we’ll hit a broker here and there.” He also has five cows of his own, and his parents own another 30 head of Black Angus cows. His goal is to build the cow herd so that eventually he feeds all of his own hay rather than marketing it.
At an elevation of 5,118 feet, Nicholas gets about 4 tons per acre, with usually three cuttings, although he says the third cutting is kind of thin. He uses a 7810 John Deere tractor, a 4890 John Deere windrower, a 348 John Deere small square baler, a 1089 New Holland stackwagon, loads hay with a 1566 International tractor and has a 100 International tractor that he uses to rake hay. Nicholas says, “I do mostly everything except I’m not comfortable running the stackwagon yet.” He prefers baling.
He’s been able to put his rake to good use and make a little extra money on the side. Nicholas says, “I’ve been raking hay for some of my neighbors – they have a big square baler, and when the wind scatters the windrows, I help them rake hay.” He plans on using the extra money for college.
The 100 International tractor, Nicholas says, is in the shop right now with a head gasket that went out, but he’s working on it. He says, “Dad took the cab off of it and I’ve taken the hood off, the turbo, exhaust, intake and most of the big stuff to get down to the engine.”
With a side hobby of classic car restoration, and having restored a truck already, Nicholas says his dad taught him a lot about how motors work. He says tractor and equipment maintenance was pretty easy to pick up with that background. This is the first tractor engine he’s torn into, however. He says, “Usually, I just do the preventative maintenance, like oil changes, filter changes and stuff like that.”
Nicholas is active in a junior high division of FFA. His advisor is his neighbor, and this year he went to the state convention competing in livestock judging, meat judging, horse judging and poultry judging. In 4-H he also competes in meat judging, livestock judging and tractor driving, which helped him learn about motors and preventative maintenance.
When asked about entering next year’s hay contests, Nicholas says, “Yes, I already have hay tucked away – some third cutting – in the barn now.” He’s tarped it top and bottom, and sealed the side tarps with other hay bales “to keep the cats and birds from getting to it.” He intends to win.
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PHOTO 1: Nicholas Gutierrez attended World Dairy Expo for the first time in 2016 as a finalist in the World Forage Analysis Superbowl with his commercial hay entry. By day’s end, he says he was exhausted but “stoked.” Photo by Lynn Jaynes.
PHOTO 2: Nicholas Gutierrez is shown with his winning hay entries at the Wyoming state fair. Photo by Elizabeth Gutierrez.