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.”
Use the Right Equipment
“The equipment available today makes it easier to put up quality hay,” Brad relates. “The new RazorBar™ headers on our Hesston by Massey Ferguson® windrowers are a good example. We used to have two sickle-type machines and one disc windrower,” he explains. “When it came time for the last cutting, which is usually pretty thin, we’d just have to park the disc windrower. However, the new RazorBar features so many improvements for light crop feeding that we’ve now gone with all disc windrowers.”
“Believe me, we’ve tried everything on the market,” Ben adds, “including a 50-foot, self-propelled disc mower conditioner. The RazorBar, with its steel-on-steel conditioner, just does a better job, which allows us to rake and bale almost a half day earlier than we can with anything else.”
Adapt When Necessary
The McIntyres have seen change first-hand, particularly when large dairies started moving from California and Washington to Idaho in the 1990s. As a result, demand for hay increased significantly. In fact, McIntyre Farms continues to supply most of the alfalfa for one 7,500-head operation. Now that the dairies are established, however, several of them have begun buying land and raising their own hay in an effort to become self-sufficient, while leaving the door open for custom haying.
In the meantime, the market for export hay has increased in Idaho in response to higher hay prices in Washington and Oregon.
“Last year, the export market bought nearly 8,000 tons of hay, with the first part of it going to Saudi Arabia,” Ben recalls. He adds, “They will take lower quality hay simply because most of it is being cubed prior to shipment.”
In response to the increased export demand, Ben says they have already replaced their MF2190 4 x 4 balers with Massey Ferguson model 2170 balers that make 3 x 4 big square bales. According to Ben, the shorter height will allow trucks destined for the ports to be loaded with more weight without exceeding height limits.
However, by the time Bentley becomes the fifth generation to work the farm, alfalfa production will probably have changed again. One thing will be certain, though. He will have had some good instructors.
A Change of Plans
When the McIntyre family purchased a 225-horsepower John Deere tractor in 2007, they just assumed they would be buying two more a couple years later. That all changed last year when Brant Schorr, their sales representative at Agri-Service in Oregon, sold them on two new Massey Ferguson 8680 models.
“Had it been a new tractor from anybody else, we probably wouldn’t have given it a second look,” says Ben McIntyre. “But we’ve established a lot of trust with Agri-Service. They’re by far the best deal around on parts and service. They always do what they say they’re going to do.”
Today, the McIntyres are totally sold on Massey Ferguson high-horsepower tractors, and one of the big reasons is fuel efficiency. “It uses 50% less fuel than the Case IH Magnum tractors we had in the past,” says Ben, “and 15 to 20% less than our John Deere 8330. Yet, it has 50 more horsepower than either one.”
One key to the efficiency is the economy PTO, which allows the tractors to power the balers nearly 90% of the time at just 1,640 rpm. The continuously variable transmission (CVT), says Ben, is much more efficient than a powershift model. “The CVT has been a real fuel saver by helping find the perfect speed for just about any job,” he adds.