- Associated Press - Sunday, May 7, 2017

PARAGOULD, Ark. (AP) - There were local ties to this year’s Kentucky Derby: Hay and straw.

Hill Hay Farms in Paragould has been providing both for the horses competing in the first leg of the Triple Crown for several years, according to Steve Hill of the company he co-owns with father Ronnie.

“We just sent a load of each to Churchill Downs last week,” he told the Paragould Daily Press (http://bit.ly/2pIhpBo ).

Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky, has been the site of the running of the Kentucky Derby since 1875.

Hill Hay Farms actually sends more hay to Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs than to Churchill Downs, however.

“But it’s pretty much a seasonal thing,” he said. “Right now Oaklawn is out of season and Churchill Downs is gearing up.”

Hill Hay Farms sells hay to other locations, including racetracks in Texas, Louisiana and even Grand Cayman Island.

“We have also donated hay to people in Oklahoma who lost hay to all the wildfires they had over there,” he said “And we sell even more straw than we do hay.”

He explained the difference between the two. “Hay is used for feed,” Hill said, “while straw is used for bedding for the animals.”

Hay, he said, is soft and slightly moist. Straw, on the other hand, is hard and stubbly. Hill said the longer stalks of wheat, at least 18 inches in length, are used for livestock bedding, to keep the animals from sleeping in animal waste. Shorter straw, he said, is used on highway shoulders.

Hill Hay Farms grows its own hay, whereas it buys straw from local wheat growers. Hill said the hay his company produces comes from Bermuda grass. Other crops used for hay include alfalfa and timothy.

“It’s too wet here for us to grow alfalfa,” he said, “and the climate in general is wrong for us to grow timothy.” Hill said the chief source of timothy in the United States is the state of Washington.

He traced the process by which the Bermuda grass becomes hay. “First we fertilize the crop.” Hill said. “Then we spray it, irrigate it, cut it and then we ‘tedd’ it three times.” Tedding means to fluff up the hay so that it will dry more quickly.

The hay is then baled, and combined into a 21-bale bundle.

“We use a Bale Baron to bundle it,” Hill said. “We bought the very first one sold in the United States.”

The device, at a cost of $250,000, enables automated bundling in 30 minutes.

“Before, it used to take four of us three hours to bundle it manually,” Hill said. “Now no human hands touch a bale. So it saves us on labor costs as well as time.”

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Information from: Paragould Daily Press, http://www.paragoulddailypress.com/

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