When you’ve been farming as long as the Viskers have, you pick up a few valuable tidbits along the way. And their expertise has paid off well as Haywire Farms Inc. was named 2017 Grant County Hay King.
“It’s a pretty neat honor — nice to be recognized for what you do,” Travis Visker said. “We’ve entered the contest before, but have come up short a few times.”
The Viskers are third-generation farmers who grow alfalfa just south of Moses Lake off Highway 17.
“My grandpa started this business in 1956 — it used to be called Haywire Dairy down in the Sacramento area,” Travis said. “He moved up to Warden in 1960, and in 1962 bought a unit of land on the back of the property where the farm sits now.”
Travis said it was a lifelong dream of his grandfather’s to have the dairy, but he ended up selling the business in 1975 and his dad Randy continued to farm.
“I had been working on the dairy since I was a kid,” Randy said. “I wanted to do something different. We were going broke anyway so my dad and I sort of split and he said he’d been better off if he had just given me the cows (140 of them) the year before.”
Haywire Farms may not be one of the bigger spreads in the county, but it is one of the best at growing hay, says the Mid-Columbia Basin Hay Growers Association. The hay is judged by a dairy nutritionist, an exporter and a Washington State University forage specialist. The categories judged include type of hay and extended use, and the hay is tested for nutritional value.
“We farm a total of 580 acres,” Travis said. “We have 350 on our home place, rent ground from some neighbors and have a unit on the other side of Warden.”
Haywire Farms’ average seasonal yield is approximately 8 tons. The stand the hay was grown on, Travis said, was almost an afterthought.
“It was an older stand which typically doesn’t produce as well as a newer stand would, so we were getting ready to rotate it out during the spring and grow garden beans,” he said. “But the contracts for the beans were cut back this year so we decided to keep it in hay another year. The quality of the yield exceeded our expectations and it ended up winning the Hay King honor.”
There are variables that make up a good yield of hay, many of which Travis said, are out of the of grower’s control.
“Weather and market prices are the biggest factors,” he said. “The hay business is kind of hit-and-miss. A couple of years ago we didn’t have a bale of hay get rained on and we thought we had hit a home run. But that was the year of the port slowdown and there it sat. The demand was gone — we couldn’t get rid of it and the prices dropped like mad. Other years we’ve had hay rained on like crazy and we sold it all. Farming is not an exact science; it’s kind of a gamble.”
Marketing their product can be tricky as well.
“It depends on the year. When milk prices are good we sell a lot to the dairies. Before the port slowdown we exported a lot of hay,” Travis said. “We do sell a lot of pickup loads to neighbors. It consumes a little more time, but I really enjoy talking with the folks when they come out. I have gotten to know some good quality people and have formed a lot of good friendships over the years doing it that way. We also sell a lot of our small bales to feed stores.”
The Viskers said they entered the Hay King contest because competing is in their blood.
“We’ve always like to compete — and we like to win,” Randy said. “We’ve raced cars, competed in the demolition derby and the grandkids are active in baseball.”
Travis was born and raised in Moses Lake and, except for college, has never really ventured far from there.
“The only time I wasn’t living in Moses Lake is when I went to WSU to get my degree in elementary education,” he said. “I came back after graduating, did some substitute teaching and applied for a full-time position, but was never hired.”
That wasn’t a bad thing, Travis said, because his only real interest was farming.
“I did some custom combining on the side to help me pay my way through school and had built up a pretty good clientele by the time I got out. All things considered, I thought I’d continue to do it and did for the next five to six years before my dad and I decided to partner up in 1999 and farm. I still do custom work on the side.”
The hardest part of farming, Travis said, is the long hours spent working the fields.
“At times I think I don’t even make minimum wage. People flipping burgers and making fries make more money than me. It’s a risky business too.”
The most rewarding? “I get to work with my dad and family everyday.”
Travis and his wife Andrea will be celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary this November. They have four boys; 18-year-old Wyatt, 16-year-old Wade, 13-year-old Tyson (13) and 11-year-old Travis Junior (TJ).
In addition to her many duties of raising a family — having clean clothes for all to wear and preparing daily hot meals, chauffeuring boys back and forth to practice and game day, and being a parts runner — Andrea is a full-time bookkeeper for Royal City Harvest Foods. Andrea grew up in Royal City. Her maiden name is Fanning. She played volleyball for Big Bend Community College and is a member of the squad that will soon be inducted into the institutions Volleyball Hall of Fame.
Travis is also an assistant baseball coach at Warden High School, and an EMT for Grant County Fire District No. 5. The two met at Big Bend and attended WSU at the same time, but didn’t date until they were back in the Basin.
As to what they like to do in their spare time, if there is such a thing?
“We like to watch our kids play sports,” Travis said. “Our oldest two played baseball for the Central Washington Spuds this summer — played more than 40 games. Our younger two played baseball too. Tyson was on an all-star team and TJ played for a tournament team. We’ve seen over 150 games.”
The legacy of Haywire Farms will continue long after Randy, Travis and Andrea decide they are ready to retire from the business as their oldest son Wyatt has plans to keep his great-grandfather’s dream alive.
“He’s getting ready to move into the house on the property I grew up in,” Travis said. “Family is the best crop we’ve grown here at Haywire Farms.”