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Illinois Farm Families Blog

Apr 26 2016

Why the meal in the field?

As I write this, I have delivered my first meal to the field this spring. It was nothing glamorous, but still signifies that it has begun. We are rolling.

The pace will not slacken from here on out. From now till November, there exists the possibility of the last-minute phone call: “Can you bring supper?” See also: “I’m gonna need a lunch.”

And my very real confession is that while I may grumble (sometimes), deep down, I really like taking meals to the field. I like nourishing my people when they’ve worked so hard. I like planning out what I can take and how to serve it. I like a slow cooker with a locking lid. And I like dishing up meals in Styrofoam to-go containers, a trick I picked up from fellow farm wife Katie Pratt. Wrapped with a rubber band, a napkin and a fork. Grab a bottle of water. Deliver. Done.

The fall days are my favorite, when everyone tends to be in the same field and we can all eat out of the back of my SUV, or the tailgate of the pickup. We’ve had days of tossing footballs at the end of the field, of my very small children clutching pork chop sandwiches and waving for another ride, of Monicals on the tailgate. There was Memorial Day Weekend 2009, when John planted most of our corn crop in three days. It’s one of the very few Sundays in 18 years that he’s ever skipped church to farm; we took a picnic lunch to the field, sitting under the trees of his grandpa’s farm as we ate and the kids entertained him.

I’ll remember those days forever. They were not easy days – herding three small kids while making dinner for a dozen people, loading it into the car, keeping it warm, getting to the right field, serving it up, helping the children, cleaning them up, cleaning the food up, carting it all back home, bathing the small children, doing the dishes and collapsing in exhaustion. But they are good days.

May we all have lots of good days this season.

Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

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Holly Spangler
Marietta, IL

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise their three children. On their farm, they grow crops and raise cattle with John's parents. Holly is also an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business.

Apr 25 2016

Where's the Beef?

March weather in Northern Illinois is far from predictable, and although we had a warmer then usual spring day for our visit to the Adams family farm, it was still a bit chilly. When we arrived, the 'City Moms' gladly huddled into a warm barn to hear what Alan Adams had to tell us about his family farm. Alan welcomed us into the barn with pleasure and more then a little bit of pride. We were gathering into the shelter of a family heirloom. The cozy building was constructed with beautiful oak beams by his grandfather in the 1940's.

Alan began his informal lecture by sharing childhood memories of the space in which we gathered. Barns and haylofts were fun and wondrous places to visit. His recollections brought to mind some of my own childhood memories of farm visits. Unlike my own family though, Alan's has retained ownership of the farm and passed down the family tradition of farming as a livelihood. He shared his pleasure of having his young grand-daughter, the seventh generation of their family, living on the farm.

Alan continued his presentation by sharing some of his extensive knowledge of raising high quality, nutritious beef. He explained the classification of cows as ruminants and their ability to digest cellulose (grass). The cow's four compartment digestive system gives her the ability to process grass and vegetable products that cannot be broken down and used by most other animals, creating the opportunity to make hard to till land productive through grazing.

The importance of the inter-connectedness of the people, the animals and the land is emphasized on the Adams' farm. The interdependence of the three is continually taken into consideration as choices are made for creating a high quality product and a sustainable business. Alan discussed past and current practices in raising beef and predicted more extensive use of DNA testing by farmers in the near future to inform their choices in cattle breeding. While every farming family, their knowledge and the track of land they farm is unique, for a farmer to continue a viable family business, learning about and understanding the beneficial uses of new technology in farming is necessary.

Science and technology have improved the outcomes for agriculture in ways many of us aren't even aware of. Alan's first hand day to day experience and his long term view from a life time of farming have given him an understanding of the many benefits of using of science and technology in farming. Some of the evidence based practices bringing benefits to farmers and consumers that he discussed include selective breeding, vaccines, antibiotics when needed, and the use of hormones for more efficient beef production.

Selective breeding contributes overall to the cattle raising process. Beef quality is one aspect, so is the temperament of the cows. Ever watchful the cows are bred and prized for their mothering instinct. Two calf-cow pairs were brought in from pasture, to provide the 'City Moms' an up close view of these beautiful animals. A curious calve isn't ever far out of his mother's sight. These cow-calf pairs are typically in the pasture grazing and utilizing otherwise hard to farm pasture land.

The efficient production of beef that satisfies consumer demand, maintains the health of the animals and provides enough profit for a family farm business, necessitates the integrated use of science and technology. Alan Adams' acquired knowledge is being passed on to the younger generations of his family, but he is also clearly open to new research and evidence based approaches. He was also, like all of the farmers introduced to the 'City Moms', eager to share with us the hows and whys of the choices he makes on his farm. He wants consumers to know the facts and is willing to be transparent about the farming practices he utilizes to increase non-farmers understanding. 

The Adams family has a long history of farming. They incorporate a love and understanding of the land on which they live and extensive knowledge about the animals they raise. They continue to learn about and apply new evidence based information to create the best possible outcomes for their business and the consumers they serve.

Participating in the Illinois Family Farm program has not, by any means, made me an expert in farming. Even as a consumer, I still need to do more of my own research, but my grocery buying choices are far more informed then before participating. Truly being marketing savvy demands a deeper look from a variety of angels for all of us. While my consumer education will continue on my own, I am truly grateful for the hospitality and sharing of information provided to me by the farmers who opened their gates and barns to me as a 'City Mom'.

More informational resources for digging deeper:

For an in depth discussion regarding the use of antibiotics by a brilliant and experienced ranch woman (first hand knowledge wins) read: The Misunderstood

Also, a more thorough look at the use of hormones in beef production can be found in the following article from the University of Nebraska, it offers more evidence based information: Worried About Hormones?

Related posts:
Knowledge is Power: Farm Tour Recap
What I Witnessed on an Illinois Farm
Opening My Eyes to the Reality of Animal Agriculture

Angie Runyan
Brookfield, IL

Angie is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Apr 11 2016

What I Witnessed on an Illinois Farm

As a City Mom for Illinois Farm Families, I’ve gotten a chance to see behind the scenes on several Illinois farms, and I have to say that I learn more with each one that I visit.  This spring, we were given the opportunity to tour the Adams’s cow/calf operation, and to talk with their family as well as other women who work on their own family farms doing similar work.

The thing that stood out most to me on this tour was the human-animal connection. I have a soft heart, and I tend to be very concerned with animal welfare and humane treatment. On this tour, I got a chance to have more informal conversations with the farmers, and in those conversations, the connections that these people have with their animals was obvious.

On the bus, Sarah Prescott, who has a cow/calf operation with her husband in Springfield, IL, was telling us about her typical day with her cows, and she shared with us a story about Trixie. While Sarah admitted that she couldn’t name all 120 of her cows and hope to keep all of them straight, she has a definite connection with Cow 1314, or Trixie, as she and her daughters call her. Trixie is the bovine version of Sarah, me, and I think pretty much any mother these days in some ways. She’s got crazy hair…well, fur, I guess. She’s always going a little crazy looking for her calf, making sure that everything is going right and hustling the little one along. She worries constantly, sometimes even when it’s not her calf that’s upset. In watching Sarah talk about Trixie, there was no doubt in my mind about how much she cares for her animals. 

On the farm, farmer Alan Adams and I were having a side chat about the future of farming, and I was telling him about my daughter, who has dreams of being in some kind of animal welfare field. I mentioned how much she loved watching cows give birth at a farm we visit in Indiana, and we started talking about what a miracle it is. Alan’s face softened as he told me that “helping cows give birth gives you your best days and your worst days”. When farmers are able to help a cow through labor and celebrate a new calf, it’s a joyous occasion every time. But in the times when something goes wrong, Alan says that it ruins your whole day. The loss is heavy and deep. I could see it in his face as he talked about it.

There’s a lot of talk these days about “factory farms” and animal welfare, and I think it’s an important discussion to continue. There may be farms out there that treat their animals as strictly a product for profit or loss, but I can tell you that from all of the farms that I’ve had the chance to visit over the last year as a City Mom, I haven’t seen anything even close to that. I’ve seen farmers somber and quietly grieve while looking at piglet that isn’t thriving like it should, despite their best efforts. I’ve heard them talk about cows like they were relatives in their own families, sharing tales of goofy things they’ve done and teasing them for their quirky habits. I’ve seen that these animals may not physically be in the care of these farmer for their entire lives, but the farmers care for them through the entire process, going so far as to visit the feed lots and processing plants to make sure that their animals will be treated properly and respected throughout their journey. 

When you buy beef, I think it’s important to recognize the connection to the animal that meat comes from, to the farms that it grew on, and to the farmers who cared for it. It’s not a job that they take lightly, and as a consumer, I appreciate all the care that goes into getting that meat to my family’s plates. 

Related posts:

Bolingbrook, IL

Ellen is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Apr 07 2016

Opening My Eyes to the Reality of Animal Agriculture

Just back from a day spent at the Adams farm, a two-part operation with a cow lot and a feed lot.  If you asked me last Friday what the difference was, I probably would has assumed they were the same thing. As with every City Mom tour, the information comes fast and furious and this excursion was no exception.  I did, indeed, learn the difference between a cow lot and a feed lot.  I also learned the difference between a heifer and a cow and a mysterious girl known as a first-year heifer. I also learned the difference between a steer and a bull and that the farmers we spoke with do not enjoy bull meat.  The most important notion I took from the Adams farm is timing.  Everything is timed out to benefit the breeding schedule of the resident cows and to maintain the integrity of the pastures.

Our visit took place during the start of calving season and, apparently, calves were being born with a predictable unpredictability.  Our adventure started in a barn on the Adams farm that was turned into a rustic classroom.  The annual schedule of the food rotation and cow breeding was explained.  The Adams farm attempts to take full advantage of area resources when planning how and when to feed their herd.  Cattle have a fairly rugged digestive system that allows them to utilize the nutritional value in things we would normally see as waste. The farm purchases the byproducts of a nearby sweet corn cannery and a local ethanol plants to subsidize the cattle feed rations and make them a bit tastier.  This symbiotic relationship struck me as a consistent theme in many of the farms we have visited.  By using the “waste” from other local products, farms can become more cost effective while reducing “waste” in their area.

The breeding schedule was explained and we now understand that timing in everything.  The cows are breed in June, and with a gestational duration similar to humans, calving season starts in March and runs through May.  The calves spend the summer with their moms and are weened in the Fall in preparation for departure to the feed lot.  The Adams farm practices humane weening which is made a bit more tolerable with the introduction of feed lot rations.  The calves are quickly taught by their moms how to eat the new rations and are eventually separated over the course of 4 days.  The cow herd on the Adams farm is a hybrid of Angus and Simmental, Angus chosen for its market dominance and Simmental for its superior milk production.  Just another way this farm maximizes its resources.

We did not have time to visit the feed lot portion of the Adams operation, but time was spent on some of our questions, especially those having to do with antibiotic use and the treatment of the animals.  One of the most difficult topics that comes up during these tours is the slaughter of the animals.  Everyone one of us has seen video footage at some point showing animal abuse and cruelty during the slaughter process.  One of my personal reasons for joining these tours is to learn what really happens.  If I choose to purchase meat to feed my family, I will also consciously choose to not close my eyes to this process.  Every tour I have been on proves, and the Adams farm tour is no exception, that the care for the animals extends to the end of the animal’s life.  They are treated humanely with attention and respect paid to their sacrifice.  The Adams farm produces a product and the quality of the product is what sustains their livelihood and feeds their own families.  It makes sense that they would want to create a clean, healthy, and humane environment in which to breed and care for their product.  For those who are offended by animals that are raised for their meat being referred to as product, I ask if you feel the same offense when selecting packaged meat at your grocery store.

The second leg of our tour took us to the DeKalb County Farm Bureau for lunch and a guest speaker, Chef Dave.  Wow!  I couldn’t take notes fast enough.  We were given a crash course in basic beef cut choice and cooking preparation.  He discussed simple marinades and meat rubs and I finally understand what braised means.  I’ve apparently been braising in my crock pot for years.  I also learned the word used to describe the taste of savory:  ”Umami."  My husband has subsequently tired of me using the word but greatly enjoyed the steak I prepared using Chef Dave’s marinade and salsa recipe.  Chef Dave gave great tips on cut selection, cooking styles, and food safety.  I now know to cut meat across the grain and when in doubt of grain direction, cut diagonal. 

As always, I truly appreciated my opportunity to participate in this tour.  I learn many new things every time I climb on that bus.  I hope my experience and the information from these tours I share with my family and friends shrinks the divide between our families and family farms.

Related Posts:
Illinois Beef Farms
I Learned a Thing or Two Today About the Beef I Shop for
Hog Farm Tour: A New Perspective

Bridget Evanson
Crystal Lake, IL

Bridget is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she will visit Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Mar 31 2016

Illinois Beef Farms

When I hear the words beef cattle, I picture ranches in Texas. As part of the City Moms program, I had the opportunity to visit the Adam’s beef farm in Sandwich, IL.  From this tour, I learned about cattle breeding and animal care.

First, the Adam’s beef cattle are crossed between two breeds, the Angus and Simmental. These two breeds produce the best calves in Alan's opinion. Angus are known for their carcass quality and Simmental for their superior milk production. The breeding season starts in late June. The Adam’s family uses two Angus bulls that are turned in with the cows for 60 days and pulled out in late August. The calves are born in early spring. In the spring, the mother cows and calves reap the benefits of the high quality pasture grass. The pasture is divided into nine areas. Every week the cattle are rotated between the pastures to control the grazing of the cow. The mothers and calves spend time grazing together on the pastures. The heifers, or first time mothers, are bred using artificial insemination with bulls that produce low birth weight calves. This is to prevent problems in the delivery of the calves. After 3 months, the Adam’s family begins the early weaning process. The mother cows train the calves in how to eat at the feed trough. The calves can then transition easily to the farm feed lots. When the calves are separated from their mother, they are in the pen right next to their mother. This is the lowest stress situation for mother and baby. The cows continue to graze in the pastures until late winter. Afterwards, they remain indoors until they have a calf and pasture is ready in early spring. 

The Adam’s family, like the majority of farmers, provide compassionate animal care. They have taken classes and are Beef Quality Assurance Certified to administer vaccines to their animals. Alan Adams stated that their three injections of vaccinations inoculate their cattle from fifteen diseases. Many diseases, such as pinkeye, are rarely seen and antibiotic usage is greatly reduced thanks to the development of vaccines. When antibiotics are warranted, they are used as prescribed by the vet. On the Adam’s farm, calves are implanted with hormones at 3 months and at 6 or 7 months. The hormones influence the cow’s pituitary gland to increase the growth rate of lean beef production of fat, as opposed to fat production. Also, it helps the animal’s body use their feed the most efficiently. The Adam’s family emphasized that we consume foods that naturally produce these hormones in far greater quantities. Why would they consume their own beef that had the hormone plants if it was unsafe? There is no scientific evidence showing safety concerns with hormone implants. 

Furthermore, just as farmers provide compassionate care and low stress environments to their animals, the meat packing plants provide a calm environment and humane death. One half of all plants in North America use equipment and the five key measure audit system (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point type audit) designed by Temple Grandin, a woman with autism and an expert on animal behavior. Many large plants are audited, using Grandin’s standards, by restaurant chains. Temple believes that providing a calm stress free environment at the meat packing plant is just as important as providing a quick, painless death. Animals have a greater fear level and lower pain threshold compared to people. 

When I hear the words beef cattle, I now picture the Adam’s farm. I learned about cattle breeding and compassionate animal care. Thanks again to the family and the City Moms program for this informative and enjoyable opportunity. 

Related posts:
I Learned a Thing or Two Today About the Beef I Shop For

I Visited a Beef Farm and Still Wanted to Eat Steak
Food Blogger Visits Local Farm

Sarah Decker
Grayslake, IL

Sarah is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Mar 23 2016

Raising Families, Food and Awareness

A voice from a local Illinois farm speaks up about farm animal care issues that matter to consumers.

Sara Prescott met her husband Michael when they were both 13 years old and showing livestock in 4-H. (Showing livestock is when farm kids raise and groom an animal to be judged against other like animals.) From the start, they had a lot in common; Sara grew up with show livestock while Michael was raised on a third-generation Angus cattle farm. Today, they operate Prescott Angus & Simmental in Lincoln, Illinois. That’s where they maintain a herd of 100 mother cows and where they are raising their three children, Madison, Emma and Carter. Here she answers three animal welfare questions research has shown consumers have concerns about. 

One thing I know for sure is that every mom feels the way I do about what she provides for her children. We all want to be sure we’re giving them the best this world has to offer and that we’re passing on the best of everything we’ve learned. For us, that includes keeping our kids involved in the day-to-day running of our farm, from the time a calf is born to the day it's shipped off to be raised before going to market.  

We truly believe the more we teach our kids and the more questions they ask, the better understanding they’re going to have in years to come. It’s the same with everyone; we all deserve answers to our questions. And, with only about two percent of Americans actively involved in farming, it’s natural that people will have a lot of questions about what farmers and ranchers do to put food on everyone’s table. I’m happy to offer the best answers I can based on what I’ve learned from my life in agriculture.

You raise animals for food. Do you care about their living conditions?

People who live off the farm may wonder whether farmers and ranchers care about the welfare of the animals they raise. The short answer is yes. The longer answer? First you have to understand how our farm works. We run what’s called a cow-calf farm. We have a herd of about 100 mother cows, and hopefully they each have one calf a year. We raise those calves until they are ready to be weaned from their mother's milk and eat a more grain-based diet for added nutrition, just like human babies are transitioned from milk to baby food.

The thing is, it turns out doing what makes cows happy and comfortable also makes good business sense. That’s because, just like humans, beef cattle thrive and grow best when they’re not experiencing stress or anxiety or discomfort. So ensuring our animals have healthy, comfortable conditions is satisfying in two ways. As people who grew up around livestock, we care about the welfare and comfort of the animals we’re responsible for. And that in turn helps us to be successful, and to continue raising healthy, happy calves. If our animals don’t thrive, then neither can we.

How do you know when you’re giving your animals the proper care?

Michael and I have been around farm animals all our lives, so a lot of what we need to know is second nature to us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t keep learning. A lot of people don’t realize how many farmers today have college degrees, with expertise in areas from animal science to crop and environmental technology. When we hear about new research into animal behavioral science, we’re serious about finding out how we can apply it to our own herd. More and more, we’re finding out about how important it is to allow cows and calves the opportunity to perform natural and instinctive behaviors essential to their health and well-being. So we make provisions to ensure social interaction, comfort, and physical and psychological well-being.

There are many factors that contribute to animal well-being, including food, water, bone and muscle strength, immunity to illness, as well as overall behavior and health. Farmers participate in a continuing education and certification program specially focused on animal husbandry techniques called Beef Quality Assurance. This program has empowered farmers to continuously improve the safety and wholesomeness of beef and provide the best animal care. It is a comprehensive set of sound production practices, which includes the following:
  • Provide adequate food, water and care to protect cattle health and well-being.
  • Provide disease prevention practices to protect herd health.
  • Provide facilities that allow safe and humane movement and/or restraint of livestock.
  • Provide personnel with training to properly handle and care for cattle.

That part about providing the proper training goes right to the heart of the question. Just like anyone who reads the papers or watches the news, we've heard about cases of animal abuse within the livestock industry. And, I think it’s important to note that these seem to occur in operations where the people working with the animals may be untrained, or under-trained, in the best ways to care for farm animals. Personally, because we run a family business, I believe that when you have a connection with the success of a farm, like we do with ours, you’re just not going to see that kind of animal abuse. As I mentioned earlier, caring about animal welfare is the morally right thing to do and just makes good business sense.

What does humane treatment mean to you?  

I understand why consumers want to know that farmers and ranchers practice good animal care. To me, that means that when people go to the grocery store or to a restaurant, they can feel like the treatment of the animals was ethical and humane. From my perspective, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The way most cow-calf operations work, the animals spend a lot of their time outside, grazing on pastureland. We supplement that with a really nutrient-packed supplemental feed. We watch them all closely and work with our veterinarian to control infectious diseases and metabolic disorders along with regular herd health checkups and overall guidance on animal care. Really, that’s a combination of science and common sense. Humane treatment to me means understanding the animals as best we can and providing an environment that lets them thrive.

You know, farming is one of the toughest jobs in the world. I think it’s also one of the most rewarding. Everybody’s life is full of ups and downs, and raising cattle is no different. We take great pride in what we do every day, and ideally we can pass this all down to our kids. 

By being raised on a farm and with livestock, we hope our children can take away as many skills and values as we've built throughout the years. We want them to have a good work ethic and be responsible for the choices they make. 

Agriculture has always been a huge part of our lives, and I feel we’re extremely blessed to be raising our children with the same values and traditions we enjoyed in our own childhood.

Lincoln, IL
Feb 22 2016

You'd Think the Five O'Clock Hour Is Untouchable

I have a lot of kids.

Thank you, Mrs. Obvious, right?

So, I have to do a lot of planning. While I tend to err on the side of color coding and lists, I have become more flexible as I have aged, and have had kids who decide the night you're supposed to be with friends is a GREAT night to throw up.

I'm digressing.

My life exists in somewhat harmonious chaos because of my scheduling. It's the way it has to be, and as I get up in the wee hours of the morning to do the one thing for myself, I remind myself that this is a season. A season of getting dressed in the dark, waking before some college students even rest their heads, and go work out.

I love my 5:00 time. Quiet drive. Sunrise on the way home. Friends at the gym. A good sweat.

These are things that make for a good day, in my book.

However, when your alarm goes off at 4:35 (note the :35, so that I can "technically" sleep a little later), and you notice the all-to-familiar glare of the iPad from the chap next to you, you groan, just a little.

Not because it's so early.

Not because you don't want to work out.

It's because it's the Calf Cam: Joe's key to calving surveillance. It's been a game changer this year, for sure. We have enjoyed following the miracle of life, and Joe has enjoyed not having to get dressed at 2 AM to go drive the mile and a half to the barn to check mamas.


However, you'd think that these mamas would be sympathetic to another mama...aka, me. You'd think, those of you who live in a "normal" world, that the five o'clock hour would be untouchable.

In livestock, and I'm sure other professions (can I get an amen from OB docs out there?? Sorry for my early morning births. How about funeral directors? Firemen? Tow truck drivers?), this is just a joke. There's no hour that isn't untouchable.

So, while I read all the workout pages that I follow that proclaim there's no excuse for no workout, I would like to thank them for their shaming and back handed encouragement. Then, I would introduce them to my six children and husband who spent the morning working on a mama who eventually delivered via some "encouragement" (read: pulling), but no C-section! Then, maybe one can understand my plight to physical fitness has to include the births of animals.

This time is important to me, but let's be real friends. Working out and "me time" are slivers of time that help me be a better mom, wife, friend, fit in my skinny jeans, whatever. However, knowing that I missed a workout because Farmer Joe worked on an animal for nearly three hours, saving her life and the calf, only to come home, shower and head to school with minutes to spare makes my exercising seem of small importance.

Unless, you take into consideration swimsuit and shorts season. Then we are back on an even playing field.

Originally posted on Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Emily Webel
Farmington, IL

Emily and her husband, Joe, live on a farm with their six children in Farmington, Illinois. Together with Emily's family, they raise crops and cattle and aim to be good stewards of the land. Read more from Emily on her blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Feb 11 2016

Farm Visit from a Friend

In mid January, we welcomed a new friend to our farm. Flat Aggie, as she prefers to be called, came to Illinois ready to learn about the beef cattle on our farm.  Man, was she in for a surprise!  My children - Payton (6) and Nolan (3) were very excited to teach her about our cows.

farm kid choresThe weather has been VERY mild so far this winter.  That has its pros and cons.  The cons = MUD! When Flat Aggie arrived, we had just started calving.  Calving is the process of a cow having a baby. A baby cow is called a calf and there are few things cuter than a newborn calf!  On our farm, we try very hard to walk through our cows every night to figure out which cows are closest to calving. Those cows that are close get put in the barn for the night.  They each have their own pen that is bedded down with fresh straw and alfalfa hay for them to munch on.  After the first couple times of going into the barn, they get very used to it and before we know it they all want in!  Flat Aggie was a big help when it came to cleaning those pens every night.  My son Nolan showed her what to do!

On our farm there is always something that needs to be done.  Although this is a busy time for our mama cows, we still have others to take care of.  Our replacement heifers are heifers that were born between January 2015 and March 2015.  A heifer is a female cow that has not had a baby.  Instead of selling them, we keep them and feed them through the winter.  Once they become old enough, they will replace older cows in the herd and eventually have babies of their own.  A herd is a group of cattle.  We also have bulls that we must continue to take care of.  A bull is an uncastrated male cow.  One of things we must continue to do for our cattle is provide them with minerals and salt to keep them growing and healthy.  When Payton and Nolan got distracted while helping me haul mineral around in the their wagon, Flat Aggie was a big help.  She even met a new friend...

cow licking saltIn the pictures here, Flat Aggie is standing by the mineral feeder.  This is what the salt and mineral goes into.  The cows lift the rubber top up with their nose and lick up whatever they want! Yum! 

As I mentioned before, it is calving time on our farm.  Flat Aggie got to be up close and personal for the birth of a little heifer calf.  Her mama is yellow tag #13 and is probably the friendliest cow we have.  She is always sneaking up behind us to sniff or lick our shirt or coat.  We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of her calf and I am so glad Flat Aggie was there to witness it.

We always hope that every cow will have a calf without problems.  Unfortunately that does not always happen.  Since Flat Aggie got to our farm, the weather has changed and it is very cold.  When heifers get ready to have their first calf, it is often hard to figure out how close they actually are. Needless to say there are certain cases when a heifer shows no signs of getting ready to have a calf and therefore she may not be in the barn. And she may decide to have it in the mud or when it is very cold out or even when a storm is coming! This happened to us the other day when it was cold and the windchill was near 10 degrees.  Most cows will immediately beginning smelling their newborn calf and then start cleaning it off.  This particular heifer had the calf outside.  She did not clean it off because she was not done calving.  Shortly thereafter she had another calf.  

warming a newborn calf in the kitchenOne calf was less fortunate than the other and died during birth.  When my husband got home she had just had the second one.  He quickly went and got the first calf, called me to hurry home and then took the calf in the house.  I keep spare towels and sheets, as well as an old hair dryer on hand for this reason (see The Truth About Calving...Beef Cattle)!  

Payton, Flat Aggie and I milked the cow out so we could get the initial colostrum to the calf - who was still warming up in the kitchen!!  Colostrum is the first secretion from the mammary glands after giving birth which is rich in antibodies necessary for the calf to get going in the early hours of it's life. 

Within three hours or so, we were able to get the little bull calf alert enough to go back to the barn with his mama.  She had very little milk and we had to supplement with some colostrum replacer for him to get some nourishment. He is still receiving a little bit of milk replacer while his mother's milk starts producing.

The excitement will continue on our beef farm for a long time after Flat Aggie is gone, but we hope she can visit again someday!  She was a busy girl at our place and we enjoyed having her.  I think she may have learned enough she could raise her own beef cows!  

Thanks to A Kansas Farm Mom for the opportunity to host Flat Aggie and tell our beef story.  We had a blast!

Original post and more pictures on Outside the Ag Room.

Alison McGrew
Good Hope, IL

Alison was born and raised on a grain and livestock farm in Central Illinois and now resides on a farm where she, her husband and their two children raise beef cattle. Alison and her husband both have full-time jobs off the farm that are directly related to agriculture. Alison is a former high school agriculture teacher, as well. You can learn more about their farm on Alison's blog Outside the Ag Room.

Jan 14 2016

10 Ways You Know You're an Illinois Farmer

1. You’re prepared to handle anything Mother Nature gives you. Blizzards, rain storms, heat advisories and drought.

2. The care of your animals takes priority over everything else.
3. Preserving the environment is always a factor in your decision-making on the farm.
4. Mud, rough terrain, or icy roads? No problem. Four-wheel drive.

5. You can see for miles from the highest spot on your farm - and all you can see is corn and soybeans.
6. As a kid, you spent every summer weekend showing livestock at the local county fairs.
7. Your high school class was less than 100 kids.
8. The younger generation is teaching the older generations how to use technology to make the farm more efficient and environmentally sustainable.
9. You learned how to drive as soon as your feet could reach the pedals.
10. You love inviting your urban friends to the farm to learn about how your family grows food for theirs.

Dec 29 2015

Knowledge is Power: Farm Tour Recap

The Illinois Farm Families 'City Moms' went on the last of this season's farm tours in October. Despite my increased awareness of the extensive winter work that continues behind the scenes, every year, on every farm; from my perspective as a city mom, we ended the season appropriately, with a harvest tour.

Invited to complete our season with the opportunity to ride in the combine and the grain wagon, this was an exciting and somewhat celebratory tour. I am sad to see the season come to an end. We have met so many amazing Illinois farm families. I've had such a good time and learned so much on each tour, much more than I've yet been able to integrate completely into my food purchasing, preparing and serving of meals to my family.

The Larson Farm

farmer meets city momOur last tour was of the the Larson Farm in Maple Park, IL. The Larson family farm produces beef and grain. Three generations participate in farming on the Larson farm. Mike and Lynn Martz partnered with Lynn's parents in 1979. Their son Justin and his wife joined them in 2008. Several employees contribute to farm operations and are an integral part of the farm. With several generations represented in the family and inter-generational employees on the farm there is a strong sense of extended family and community overall at the Larson farm.

The crop production side of their farm is managed by Lynn and includes corn, soybeans and wheat grown on 6,350 acres of land. They also raise and finish beef cattle, Mike's domain. They have the capacity to house up to 3,500 head of cattle and finish 7,000 head each year. These cattle are delivered via semi-truck to the Larson feed lot where upon arrival, they are allowed ample time to rest and recover from the stress of travel. The feed lot houses and cares for the animals of other farmers and finishes them for the market.

Animal Well Being

Every animal is observed on a daily basis at the Larson farm. Technology contributes to the assessment of each animal's well being and development. Ultra-sound technology is used in determining fat content, marbling and readiness for the market. Facilities for the cattle on the Larson farm were designed by the well known consultant to the livestock industry, Temple Grandin.

Antibiotics are only used on sick animals and following any antibiotic treatment, there is a required withdrawal period before that animal can be taken to market. There is oversight and inspection by government regulators and ample testing required to insure that there are no residual antibiotics in the meat. 

Mike Martz also presented information regarding the use of hormones in beef production. Hormones naturally occur in cattle (and other organisms). Any additional hormones are given to assist an animal in utilizing their feed to promote growth. A farmer may choose to use additional hormones to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of raising cattle. Useful comparison information regarding hormones to consider includes the fact that a 3 oz. cut of treated beef contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen compared to 1.3 nanograms in a 3 oz. cut of untreated beef (that's a .6 nanogram difference), a potato contains 225 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of peas contains 340 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of cabbage contains 2,000 nanograms and one birth control pill contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. (Source below.)

For the source and more information regarding the specific amounts of naturally occurring hormones, please read this article from the University of Nebraska.

Back to the Farm

There is an amazing amount of work to be done and managed on the Larson farm. Our visit coincided with the fall corn harvest. We rode on the combine on the 27th day of consecutive 15 hour work days for those driving the equipment. Despite the timing, we were met with enthusiastic and talkative field guides as we watched the harvesting of the corn from the combine cab.

To get your own glimpse into work and life on the Larson farm, watch this video.

So Much to Learn

We have been presented with so much information and have had the opportunity to have an inside look at farming on each and every farm tour that it is hard to readily absorb and process it all. Visiting the Larson family farm was no exception and we were once again treated with warm hospitality and straight forward honest answers to every question.

For me the big picture takeaways from the Illinois Farm Family 'City Moms' tours were:

  • Illinois Farmers are dedicated hardworking people with the best interests of their land, their animals and their consumers at heart. 
  • They offer high quality products to consumers. 
  • They care. 
  • They are regulated. 
  • They respond to the market.
  • They want consumers to be healthy, informed and to have choices in their food purchases.

The Illinois farmers we met this season are committed to informing consumers about farm production. They have been more than generous in sharing their time, knowledge and their farms with us.

Whether it is through a program like the one offered by Illinois Farm Families, by visiting your local farmers market or just asking questions of the managers of the grocery store where you shop, I urge you to find and get to know the farmers who produce your food. You will increase your knowledge about the food you eat, gain confidence in your purchasing choices and meet amazing people.

Originally posted on Run Ran Fam.

Brookfield, IL

Angie is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.