At McIntyre Pastures—1,200-plus acres of gorgeous farmland between the Snake River and the Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge—spring is in the air, water and soil. There's even spring in the step of the thousands of chickens, cows and pigs that have patiently waited out a longer-than-expected winter to return to the pasture. The crispness in every inhale is as bracing as the greenery is eye-popping. But you don't really need to travel to rural Caldwell to fill your senses: The McIntyres bring the pastures' bounty to Boise every Saturday.
- McIntyre Pastures
"We love telling our story to our customers at the Boise Farmers Market," said Maria McIntyre. She manages the family farm's office and has helped with chores since marrying Ben, who is the brother of Brad, who are both sons of family patriarch Loren, who... well, let's put it this way: The clan is rather huge, and has been farming the same pastures since 1909. (One dramatic side note: When the financially strapped McIntyres nearly lost the farm at the height of the Great Depression, a local doctor purchased the land and sold it back to them for $1 just to keep it in the family.)
The soil at McIntyre Pastures is as rich as that family history.
"The real purpose of what we do is all about the soil. The soil is No. 1. The animals... well, they're sort of tools, working the soil. The cattle, the chickens, the pigs—they all come together to make a healthy soil," said Ben McIntyre. "Our ultimate goal is to build a healthy soil, and that includes no tilling."
The no-till method of managing topsoil may sound revolutionary to most gardeners, but in fact it couldn't be more old-school. Instead of tilling, the McIntyres have their free-range animals do some of the work. Make no mistake: Most days on the farm are back-breaking, sunrise to sunset. The McIntyre's innovative process of moving their free-roaming animals from one parcel of pasture to another every few days is part of a very detailed plan. When the cattle, for example, are moved from one pasture to another, more than 2,000 chickens are then moved into the parcel behind them.
- McIntyre Pastures
"And those thousands of chickens? Well, they love to scratch out all those cow patties. The chickens eat a lot of feed, but they're also eating that larvae, really cutting down on the flies," said Maria. "In time, when the cows and chickens have moved on to other pastures, the grass in all of those previous pastures has really greened up, and the soil just keeps getting better."
The process repeats itself through nearly 100 parceled-out pastures across the McIntyres' acreage. And by the time the cows have reached the furthest pasture, the soil of the first—now thick with fresh grass—awaits their return.
To be sure, a trip to McIntyre Pastures is tonic for the soul. That said, for their thousands of customers across Southern Idaho, it's all about the farm-to-table eggs, beef, pork and chicken they produce. In addition to the family's appearance each Saturday at the Boise Farmers Market, you'll see products from McIntyre Pastures on the shelves at Albertsons, the Boise Co-op and even Atkinsons Market in Hailey. Their eggs are in high demand.
- McIntyre Pastures
"People have to have their eggs. Every day, every week, all year. We've got deliveries out all across the Treasure Valley even as we speak," said Maria. "Right now, we're making deliveries to a number of restaurants, including Alavita, Bittercreek, Diablo & Sons, The Modern, Red Feather, Waffle Me Up...chances are, you're eating our eggs at a lot of top restaurants."
The days are quite long at McIntyre Pastures.
"You bet; we're up in the morning when the chickens are up," said Maria.
Maria, her sister-in-law Jill, and their husbands Ben and Brad have 10 children between them. Plus there's another brother, Spencer, his wife Michelle, and, of course, the patriarch and matriarch, Loren and Kathy. There are dozens of kids and grandkids overall, ranging in age from 1 to 13. Somewhere in the middle of that mayhem is 6-year-old Elsie, who happened to be helping out when BW paid a visit. A word to the wise: Don't let Elsie's age or size fool you.
"I help with the eggs. We all help with the eggs," she said. And when one of the chickens wandered away from its pasture, she ran over and snatched it with the speed and grace of a veteran farmer, returning the bird to the 2,000-plus flock.
"I bet I could count them all," said Elsie. Her smile was as big as sunrise.