A week after my first IL farm tour day my mind is still reeling with everything I learned! I wanted to be a field mom so I could get out and see my food at its source. Assuming I knew at least the basics of how corn was grown, I was most interested to see the cattle and dairy cows being raised by the Martz and Drendel families. My biggest concerns were regarding their daily routine, level of care and learning about hormones and antibiotics used and how they may impact my family. I definitely learned a lot about the animals, but learned so much more about topics I didn’t even consider. Overall it was a great day to learn and experience a day on a farm—combine and grain cart rides included!
Like many other field moms, I was quite surprised when we arrived at the Larson Farms. We were expecting a farm house and instead got a modern house that functions as an office for a very substantial farming operation. Within the first few minutes I was struck by how the Martz family uses technology in their farming operation. Mike described using ultrasound to determine the fat/muscle ratio for the cattle. Lynn later described how they use GPS on the farm machinery to determine how much nitrogen or phosphorous is in the soil, the amount that needs to be added, how much seed to plant where and the yield of each section of field. In both instances the use of assistive technology allows them to be restrained in the use of their resources to keep costs down and reduce their environmental impact.
At both the Larson and Lindale Farms I was pleased to find animals being very well cared for. Larson Farms finishes cattle, meaning that the cattle on this farm are here to gain weight in preparation for sending them to market. They have cows that arrive weekly and are generally on the farm for about 150-200 days until they reach their optimal weight for sale (different for each cow as determined by ultrasound). The 2700 (!!) cows are kept in open-sided barns designed with thought to protection from the elements, sunlight, space, waste disposal and even their comfort with new cushioned pads for them to stand on. Additionally they use wasps they purchase to eat fly larvae to keep the fly population under control. This is definitely a well thought out business! In contrast to the huge beef cattle operation of Larson Farms, over at Lindale Farms they have 150 registered Holstein dairy cows and 130 heifers/calves in their care. Despite being a business requiring a lot of time and dedication, the nature of the work allows for them to personally know their animals over the many years they keep them. All the cows are named and their histories known. Linda would refer to her “favorites” but had stories to tell about all the animals from calves to prize winning cows. The animals on this farm were kept in separate barns, divided by age, and given time in the pasture as well. At both farms the animals have individual medical charts, are attended by vets and dieticians and given antibiotics when ill. With regard to the antibiotics each farm and related industry requires multiple rounds of testing to assure that animals receiving antibiotics are not entering the food chain.
I was surprised to hear about the environment repeatedly on our farm day. The Mississipi River, run-off, and strategies for nurturing their land were all mentioned multiple times. It was apparent that each family farm valued the land they had, but were also aware that their actions affect others down the road or downstream. Both families referred to the growing world population and what they personally were doing to try to meet that demand (much of the grain and soybeans in IL and specifically at Larson Farms already goes to China).
Overall it was an amazing, busy day that taught me a ton about the planning and processes that go into making some of my families favorite foods. There is no way to capture all of the day’s events and discussions adequately. I am thankful for family farms like these when we sit down for steaks on the grill and ice cream for dessert!
River Forest, Illinois