When school lets out each summer, Redmond School District Superintendent Mike McIntosh not only has his regular summer schedule to keep, which largely entails planning for the upcoming school year, but he also has charge of his 120-acre cattle ranch and haying operation in Terrebonne, Ore.
The McIntosh family began ranching in Central Oregon in the 1960s, when Mike’s father, Mac, moved to Redmond from Baker County, Oregon. Mac first raised horses on a six-acre farm where Redmond Proficiency Academy Middle School is now located, later moving to the Lazy ‘M’ Ranch in 1979. Mac was also an educator and administrator for Richland, Oregon and Redmond Schools for 37 years, 27 in the Redmond School District.
“My father and I both taught in local schools, served as administrators and fully immersed ourselves in that world,” McIntosh said. “We have both loved being educators, but the ranch has always served as our little getaway where we can unwind and think.”
Summer months at Lazy ‘M’ mostly center around harvesting hay for Mike’s 25 head of Angus cattle. Longer summer days means he rises earlier for chores, heads off to his superintendent responsibilities and then returns to the ranch until daylight fades to harvest the 200 tons of hay his fields produce every summer. Because his cattle do not require that much hay, he sells about 100 tons each year.
You might think a 200-ton undertaking would require a crew of workers, but this summer it’s mostly just Mike, wife Joanna, his 83-year old father, and their faithful Blue Heeler, Sammy. His adult sons Jacob and James were raised on the ranch and help when possible, but both work full-time jobs. His daughter, Janelle, lives in Prosser, Wash. with her husband who manages a large farming operation.
From blade to bale, stacking a barn full of the McIntosh family’s organic, ground-sourced hay involves quite a bit of work. The first of three cuttings begins in June. The process begins by cutting the grass with a swather (a device on a mowing machine for cutting hay or grain) or teams of horses, leaving it to dry in the summer heat, and then forming the hay into perfect rectangles using a tractor/baler combination usually driven by Joanna. Mike follows behind on an ATV to check weight and moisture content of the newly-formed bales. Too much moisture (above 22 percent) results in moldy hay, which can make livestock ill, and the bales can spontaneously combust, usually resulting in a barn fire. Sammy’s “job” mostly consists of keeping Rock Chuck (also known as the Yellow-Bellied Marmot) numbers in check and running up and down Mike’s fields chasing birds. Nice work if you can get it. Lastly, they pick up the hay with a bale wagon and stack it in barns, 4,000 bales total.
For the second cutting of the season in early August, the McIntoshes swap out John Deere and New Holland for Belgians and Blacks, huge muscular draft horses driven by three generations of McIntoshes: Mac, Mike and sons Jacob and James. On top of cattle and haying, Mike has raised draft horses since high school. Draft horses are known for their size and strength and are generally used for farm labor. Using horses may take a little longer and is more work (especially for the horses), but Mike says he enjoys using them over modern farm machinery. When the three generations are all in a field driving teams of horses, many cars slow down to gawk and snap photos of the 19th Century display. After all, the McIntoshes have purchased their draft horses from an Amish community in Iowa for a number of years.
“My family has been ranching and farming in some capacity for four generations, so it’s just a part of our DNA and who we are,” Mike said. “It’s hard work to be sure, but awfully satisfying at the same time. Our operation is entirely a family affair and one I plan to pass on to Jacob and James when they’re ready.”
Mike said he loves spending more time on the ranch each summer but the new school year is quickly approaching and he is looking forward to the successes and challenges that each year brings.
“While we always make the most of each summer and enjoy running Lazy ‘M,’ there’s just a certain excitement and joy about the first day of school that my cows and horses can’t really compete with,” he said with a smile.