Hay! Teens Find Business Opportunity

Lucas Saylor and Ryland O’Toole turn out bales and a profit

Story and photos by Craig Reed

Teenagers Ryland O’Toole, left, and Lucas Saylor spent their summer running their new haying operation. Their profits will go toward next year’s haying equipment.

Lucas Saylor and Ryland O’Toole are not only friends, they are business partners.

A year ago, the now 15-year-olds discovered a need while bucking hay for family, friends, and neighbors. They noticed other fields were not getting mowed, raked and baled, and seized a business opportunity: turning fields of grass into hay bales for sale and a profit.

They set themselves up for business during the 2021 hay season. With money saved from last summer’s work, Ryland bought a used mower and Lucas bought a used rake. They borrowed a tractor from Lucas’ family and a baler from Ryland’s family and went to work.

The soon-to-be high school sophomores mowed, raked, baled, and hauled hay from five fields, ranging in size from 1 acre to 15 acres, in the Melrose, Lookingglass, and Camas Valley areas.

“It was a joint effort by both of us to come up with a plan to do this,” Ryland says of their S & O Custom Haying operation.

“We saw a need out there,” Lucas says.

Both teenagers took a tractor driving and safety class through Linn-Benton Community College in Albany. They earned permits to drive farm equipment on rural roads.

When needed, the boys got driving and mechanical help from Ryland’s grandfather, Terry Fluetsch, and from Lucas’ father, Jason. The men also had flatbed trailers to haul the hay equipment and move the bales out of the field and into barns.

Lucas and Ryland helped put up hay from their families’ fields, earning the right to borrow equipment to work in other fields. They had to buy the fuel and twine and pay for any repairs.

Fifteen-year-olds Lucas Saylor, left, and Ryland O’Toole spent their summer running their new haying operation.
Photo by Craig Reed

“They have things to learn, but they have the initiative,” Terry says. “I’ve been self-employed, and Lucas’ dad is self-employed. They kind of want to follow in the footsteps of their elders.”

Lucas and Ryland promoted their business at a youth vendor fair earlier this year, on Facebook and through word of mouth. They worked through most of June.

All of their production was in two-tie, 50- to 60-pound grass bales. On one job, they got 75% of the bales, and the property owner got the other 25%. On their other jobs, they got 60% of the bales, and the owner got 40%.

Ryland says the hay yield was not as great as past years due to the lack of rainfall and earlier-than-normal hot temperatures, but the partners will earn enough to help buy better equipment for future hay seasons. They already sold some of their share of the hay and have more to sell through the fall and winter.

“Every job we had, we’ve come out in the clear,” Ryland says. “We’re putting the profit back into equipment to get bigger and better next year.”

The partners were asked this year to work a field that was expected to yield 50 tons of hay, but they turned it down because they didn’t feel they had the right equipment for such a big job. Their goal is to obtain equipment that can handle bigger jobs in the future.

“It’s a challenge,” Ryland says. “There’s a new challenge every day at work, but we’ve got good people around us, helping us with the experience. That’s huge.”

Ryland’s grandfather, Terry Fluetsch, center, helps the boys with driving and mechanical issues. Lucas’ father, not pictured, is also a key to the boys’ success.

Terry and Jason, who both operate and maintain heavy equipment in their professions, have mentored the two teens.

“We couldn’t have done this without them,” Lucas says. “When we broke down and didn’t know what to do, we needed them, and they helped us.”

“They showed us the right way,” Ryland says.

Terry says he is pleased how the boys are willing to listen and learn.

“They are willing to apply it,” he says. “They’ve made do with what they’ve had and have fixed some things to make them workable. It gives me a good feeling to see the accomplishments they’ve made.”