Four Generations of Forage
An Idaho farm family shares a few of its secrets for continued success.
By Tharran E. Gaines | Photos By Tharran E. Gaines
In one smooth motion, Bentley McIntyre picks a handful of alfalfa out of a windrow and gives it a twist to check for moisture. At least that’s how it appears, even if the 5-year-old is only imitating what he’s seen his father do countless times before. As the fifth generation to tread the family-owned alfalfa fields near Caldwell, Idaho, Bentley is already learning the ins and outs of commercial hay production from his father, uncles and grandfather.
According to Ben McIntyre, Bentley’s father, McIntyre Farms was actually homesteaded by his great uncle. However, since the uncle didn’t have any children, the farm ended up passing to his brother, Ben’s grandfather, and his side of the family. Today, Ben, together with his father, Loren, and his brother, Brad, farm nearly 1,800 acres on both sides of Idaho’s famed Snake River.
“Dad’s uncle actually lost the farm during the Depression in the 1930s,” Ben says. “Fortunately, a doctor bought it and allowed him to farm it until he could afford to buy it back. A few years later, my grandpa started custom haying to help pay the bills.”
The McIntyre family has been growing alfalfa ever since, with the crop now accounting for nearly 1,000 acres. While Brad handles much of the farming, Ben schedules most of the baling and hay production. A third brother, Spencer, plans to join the operation after college graduation. Loren, meanwhile, continues to oversee the operation, while managing the farming program for a local dairy.
Needless to say, the family has learned a few tricks of the trade through four generations of hay production. They were kind enough to share a few of those with us. Here’s what they said.
Learn to Be Patient
According to Ben, timing is everything.
“We lay everything into 8-foot swaths with the windrowers,” he explains. “In most cases, we’ll come back in three days and rake two swaths into a windrower before baling it that night.
“Obviously, you don’t want to let it dry too long before raking it, because you can shatter the leaves,” he continues. “But a lot of people also rake too early; and that can be just as bad. If there’s too much stem moisture left in the plants, it causes the windrows to collapse down on themselves and close off air circulation.”
Of the nearly 50,000 big square bales the family puts up each year, nearly a fifth of them are straw bales, while the rest are predominantly alfalfa bales. Although a portion of the crop goes to the export market, most of the straw and quality alfalfa goes to local dairies.
The family has also planted about 80 acres of the farm to Teff grass, which is marketed to a local calf producer. Originally bred in Ethiopia, Teff is described as a very “sweet” forage, which sells for as much as $180 per ton.
“In addition to approximately a thousand acres of hay, we also have about 200 acres of corn and 600 acres of wheat,” Loren explains. “We use both of those as rotation crops, while we’re giving fields a rest between crops of alfalfa.”