Illinois Farm Families Blog

Nov 07 2014

Dairy farming: An honest profession of skill and passion

Recently I was at a dinner party (which is like a play date without the wipes, sippy cups and sand) and we were having the conversation about our kids and their futures. Now that DAD is back to work and doing a good amount of work with dairy farmers, the question got brought up, “Would you want your son to grow up to be a farmer?”

Six months ago, the answer would most likely have been “No, I want more for him than life on the farm.” My perception of a farmer, like a lot of people, was basic and simple. I had the image of a guy holding a pitchfork and chewing on a strand of hay. The stereotype.

Today, that answer has changed. You see, over the last few months, DAD packed up his bags, his boots, cigars and took to the road traveling from coast to coast (Seattle to Pennsylvania) meeting and talking to the men, women and children who work and live on America’s dairy farms.

What I learned might seem obvious, but it never really resonated until I had a chance to sit down and talk to these men and women: Farmers make our food. Seems simple, but it is a realization that is often overlooked. Without farmers, we would cease to exist. End of story. No blogging, no Facebook, no late afternoon lattes, nada.

In the next 30 years, we will consume more food as a planet than we have in the 8000 years before! Couple that with the fact that more people are moving away from the farm and into urban areas and yes, I am very happy that there are men and women out there doing what they do, every day, 365 days a year to make sure we have what we need, when we need it. I would be one mean ass DAD if I didn’t have my stinky cheese and milk for my coffee!

The more people I met, the more I realized that farming is not a “job,” but a career and a lifestyle that is steeped in pride, tradition and a caring for the land that goes way beyond anything I could ever dream up.

I pat myself on the back when I remember to put my root beer bottles in the recycling bin. To the dairy farmer I met, sustainability is more than a hashtag or something to talk about in line at Starbucks. To them it’s a matter of survival, for themselves and for us.

One farmer I met in the middle of nowhere in California, conserves 2.9 billion gallons of water a year! That’s enough water to give your baby an hour-long bath a day, every day, for the next 520 years (DAD does math).

Another family of farmers opened a new milk plant in Colby, Kansas, which brought 109 new jobs, which in turn brought in 130 new kids to the school, new people to the town, new shops that opened and that saved an entire county from going bankrupt!

My favorite new thing I found out about is the poop machine! Yes, it’s finally here; a machine called a digester that converts cow poop into energy by catching the gas and sending it back to the grid. One night at White Castle and I could light all of Northbrook!

If my son said he wanted to grow up to be a blogger, I might have an issue with that scenario. Unless he could hook me up with tickets to U2! Though the current scenario would be “Monster Truck Driver Ninja.”

However, if he did in fact come to me one day and tell me he wanted to work as a dairy farmer, I would be proud of the fact that he chose a path that demands an education, an understanding of business and a dedication to a craft that surrounds itself in passion and caring for the animals, the land and people they will never ever meet.

David Wallach is a stay at home Dad or, as he likes to call it, a Dad All Day and part of the Chicago Parent Blog Network. You can read more of his work here.


This article first appeared on ChicagoParent.com and is republished with the author's permission.

Oct 04 2014

Five Things You Didn't Know About Growing Up in a Farm Family

Ahhh, fall is finally in the air! It’s the perfect time to grab the family and find a nice pumpkin farm or somewhere to pick some apples. Don’t forget the pumpkin spice lattes and a nice warm sweater. Forget about harvest you can finish that field tomorrow! – Said no farm family EVER!

For those of you who grew up on a farm you will know exactly what I am talking about. Growing up in a farm family, like anything else, has its pros and cons but it definitely a unique experience to say the least! Hopefully this will give the “non-farmers” a little bit of insight to what it is really like.

"Sure, we can go…. As long as it rains”

Farm kids know this one all too well. Planning family activities, attendance at Saturday tournaments, or RSVPing to a wedding invitation is next to impossible during planting and harvest seasons. If the sun is out and the sky is clear (enough) that combine or planter is moving then plans are out the window!

Dinner is never eaten at the same time or place.

Just like the equipment, when a farmer is in the field he needs fuel to keep on keepin’ on. Some of my favorite childhood memories are taking Grandpa and the crew supper and eating it in the tractor or on a tailgate.

The Farmer 5

For some unexplained reason it seems every farm family grew up with the “farmer 5” TV channels. I guess what more explanation do you need than… it’s free! And besides, who needs to watch TV when there are animals to be fed and work to be done!

You get your unofficial driver’s license at age 10

I hope most of you have the song “Drive” by Alan Jackson? If not look it up, I promise it is worth it. Driving for the first time at a young age (under parents supervision of course) is typically very common in rural America. As a farm kid, you can drive more than a car by then and do it on your own. By the time you get to your driver’s education course when you turn 15, you can drive an automatic, a stick, a tractor, a forklift, and more!

Personal Playground

Having a farm right in your backyard makes you the hot spot for all of your friends to come over and play. You know what you can and cannot touch. You also know all the fun hidden places to play in the barn. There almost always some cute baby barn cats to pet as well! When you have this much possibility for adventure, who needs cable anyways!

Despite the constantly, undetermined schedule and the hefty amount of chores to be done the farm life is pretty sweet.  Farm families work together to live the life they love and provide for others, while still trying to lead a “normal” life. This profession is typically handed down from generation to generation so working together with your children is very important. I have not encountered many who have said they would have wanted it any other way

Happy Harvest Farm Families!

Courtney Miller
Illinois State University student




This blog originally appeared in Corn Corps, the website of the Illinois Corn Farmers.

Sep 29 2014

Five Things Farmers do in September

This September is going to be pretty busy month on the Taylor farm in Central Illinois.  The late summer/early fall time frame always has us hopping, trying to get ready for harvest, and I wanted to share some of the goings on around our place this month.  Enjoy!

1. WE’RE ADDING GRAIN STORAGE

The biggest event happening on our farm this September is the assembly of a grain bin.  Panel by panel, bolt by bolt, this life-size erector set is coming together under the direction of my husband, Bart. Many friends have lent a hand and a crane has been brought on scene to aid in the awesome undertaking. Picture, if you will, the top portion of the bin being lifted off the ground by the crane as nine guys scramble to attach the legs. Three hours or so later, the crane is able to boom down as the legs are attached and ready to be tied-off so a passing storm doesn’t blow over the work in progress. Many x-braces and over 2,000 tightened bolts later, it will soon be permanently attached to its concrete base and ready for years of use.

2. WE’RE DOING PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE

Not everything on the farm is brand new; in fact, with the exception of the grain bin and the auger attaching the bin to the grain dryer, all of our other equipment is used (some pieces MUCH more than others). And, with so many moving parts on this used equipment, one might think that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. However, many hours this September will be spent trying to prevent the squeak in the first place. Wheels will be greased, tires will be aired, belts will be tightened, oil will be changed, filters will be replaced, and the list goes on. These actions are less costly and oh so much less stressful than an untimely breakdown. And in order for our operation to run like a well-oiled machine, this planned maintenance is essential.

3. WE’RE STILL MOWING!!

Talking about maintenance, how could I forget to mention sharpening blades? Because of rainfall, the roadsides are going to need to be mowed again this September. Unlike yards that have been mowed weekly or even more often this summer, our roadsides will have been mowed only three times in total. Less about appearance and more about safety, the mowed strips will provide visibly-safe spots for farm equipment to ease over onto when meeting autos and semi drivers will be better able to gauge where to pull alongside to get loaded.

4. WE’RE STOCKING UP ON FUEL

Whether mowing, combining or transporting, it takes fuel. So, another preparedness act in September involves filling the on-farm fuel tanks. The equipment runs on diesel, and lots of it! The combine, for example, holds over 200 gallons at a time, and during full blown harvest, it will need to be filled every day and a half. So, yep, you guessed it… we see a lot of our fuel man throughout harvest, and it all begins with that initial fall fill.

5. WE’RE PROMOTING AGRICULTURE

A few of our neighbors have been able to start harvesting their crops this month. However, it will probably be October before we begin. And since I cannot yet pick corn, I promote it. Several times throughout the Broom Corn Parade in Arcola on September 6th, the onlookers burst into applause as the ethanol promoting, E-85 truck rolled by. It could have been because of the cute farmer driving it…LOL… or the fact that I was throwing candy. However, I have to believe folks are simply tired of the expense at the pump and they are excited about a cheaper, locally grown fuel.

Well, since not every day can be a parade, it's back to work for me… September is a busy month on the farm!


Glenna Taylor
Oakland, IL


Originally posted on Corn Corps, the Illinois corn farmers' website.

Sep 26 2014

Being In A Television Commercial

A few weeks ago, the Illinois Farm Bureau/Illinois Farm Families team asked if I would be interested in participating in one of four, thirty-second television commercials that showcase a dialogue between the field moms and farmers. 

I quickly agreed to participate because I strongly believe there is misinformation and unwarranted concern regarding the food we consume. Farmers plant seeds and house their animals in barns for specific reasons. Consumers need to hear why they operate their farms this way. Farmers also need to hear the concerns of everyday moms. There is a need for open communication between both groups and hopefully the commercials will start this conversation.

Each commercial answers a specific question. The topics include: GMOs, animal care, hormones and use of antibiotics in animals.

The commercials are in their final stage of editing. Once this process is done, I will share the links.  Until then, enjoy a behind the scenes sneak peek of the two-day event at Bona and Jeff Heinsohn's farm.

Camera crew setting up in the barn



Cows basked in their Hollywood style lights. Waiting for their closeups.



Crew reviewing the latest take.

Sharon Blau
Des Plaines, IL

Sharon was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited several Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms, including five things they found most interesting. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.

Sep 12 2014

Waiting for harvest

Photo courtesy of Karen Kenny-Oles, Dixon

We are currently getting ready for harvest. The crop “is what it is” at this point and no amount of crop protectants, fertilizer or scouting will make any additional difference at this point. 

This “lull” after late-August through mid-September is a good time to prepare for harvest, catch-up on “honey-do’s” and do the projects that are important but not imminent like most seasonal work on the farm (think planting or scouting—you do that when Mother Nature tells you, other important projects that aren’t weather sensitive get pushed to this time of year).  It’s also a great time to start initial plans for the next crop year, thinking about purchasing inputs (if you haven’t already) and preparing a plan of attack.  It’s early, but as Eisenhower once said “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.”

As we prepare for harvest, we have equipment to maintain.  Big jobs are already done, but oil changes, lubrication, and wear item inspections are performed.  And calibrations for sensors and computers are needed too so that in-season, our data during harvest is accurate.  We have a scale on our auger cart (this is a special wagon that moves grain from the combine—which harvests our crop in the field—to the truck for transportation).  Last year we performed calibrations, but didn’t verify them against certified scales.  We were subsequently halfway through harvest before we realized that we were had a 7% scale error.  It was easy to fix, but it’s much EASIER to get it right the first time!  We have a semi-tractor and trailer, tractor and auger cart, combine with corn and soybean “heads” for cutting the crops, tandem truck, tractor and wagon, auger and 200,000 bushels of grain storage to prepare.  This is a common setup for corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest, with an infinite number of variations in size and types of equipment.  We also will lease out a strip-till fertilizer applicator so it will be prepared for us.  Strip till means that we are injecting the fertilizer in a band 4-7” deep in the soil.  It means that the fertilizer stays where the crop roots are, rather than following rain runoff into streams.  It also means that we’re only tilling the soil in a narrow band 8” wide.  So most of our fields aren’t exposed for soil erosion.  It’s a more expensive process, but one that is ultimately better for the farm economically and environmentally—win-win.  This year, we’re also for the first time experimenting with cover crops.  Cover crops are grown to simply cover the soil when it’s not being used by the cash crops.  Think of it this way—a cover crop “covers” the soil so that it doesn’t erode.  They also increase the organic matter of the soil, create a healthy environment for earthworms and beneficial bacteria and fungi, and suppress many weeds we fight on the farm.  Lastly, they sequester (ie. Gather up) excess nutrients that the cash crop couldn’t fully utilize.  This dramatically reduces runoff into our streams.  We are excited about this new process and hope it works out on our farm!

But this “lull” is also great for the projects that don’t get addressed during the busy crop season.  For us, we’re going to spend more time on our specialty hull-less popcorn venture.  Check us out at PilotKnobComforts.com.  We will be thinking about automation and facility construction—capital investments that will make us more cost competitive by letting us scale up production AND preserving our focus on quality.  These are fun projects because, when I’m walking corn fields, I don’t have time to just sit and think.  And investments like this require lots of planning—but it means a good return on investment AND a deeper sense of meaning (I enjoy the fact that projects like these make my farm better for my son and family).  While this is certainly unique to most Midwestern farmers, the fact that we’re in “project-mode” this time of year is quite common.  It’s where a summer of research starts to be addressed by more deliberate thought and action.

Finally, I’m also thinking about next crop year.  Given the dramatic decline in corn and soybean prices of the past year (and especially last two years), there could be opportunities for young farmers if older farmers consider retirement.  But the margins are also dramatically lower—with the opportunity to grow comes the risk of failure.  So, it’s good to be considering what our inputs will cost—will nitrogen fertilizer go up or down?  Will corn seed stay the same—do I need all the features in that bag?  Is my equipment portfolio large and modern enough if someone retires?  These are the preparations that need to be considered—not necessarily finalized (most retailers won’t give firm prices to lock in completely on all inputs anyway).  Once the combine starts harvesting, it’s very easy to NOT take time to check emails and watch markets—you just get into your zone and go.  As I type this, a few weeks ahead of when it will be posted, this is one of my goals in the next two weeks—have a plan that’s flexible enough for me to change, but firm enough for me to be structured to “go with the flow” during harvest!

So as you’re still getting your kids into the rhythm of the new school year, I’ll be preparing for harvest, planning my next crop, and working on special projects.  There really isn’t a down-time on the farm—just times when the work can be pushed back a day or two and Mother Nature isn’t making your schedule.  


Andrew Bowman
Oneida, Illinois

Andrew is a fifth generation Illinois farmer. He and his wife Karlie have one son, Ryker, and farm with Andrew’s parents, Lynn and Sally Bowman, in addition to serving farmers through insurance and consulting enterprises.

Aug 31 2014

Food For Thought: Farming Is in Our Genes


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Aug 25 2014

Show Mom Diaries: The Empty Halter

Oh, you never forget that moment.

That moment your first steer is loaded onto the semi, and you’re handed that empty halter.

That dreaded, empty halter.

Maybe he was a sweetheart. Maybe he was a knot head. But as you carry that empty halter back to your stalls – now missing that animal once part of your barn for months – things are different.

And you’re forever changed.

No matter how many years pass, you always remember that first steer.

For me, it was Tremor the Angus steer. I was 8. For months, we worked together in our Hillsboro, Texas, barn. We grew together and with each show we attended, I learned a bit more about what it took to be a showman.

I was young. Everything was new. And my 8-year-old self never fully grasped what we had accomplished during our final show of the year – capturing the Champion Angus Steer title at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and showing in the Astrodome during a rodeo break for grand champion honors.

We weren’t named grand champion. But Tremor was the champion of champions to me.

Mom and dad prepared me as best they could for what was to come, and Tremor sold in the sale of champions.

The buyers were generous. And the experience was incredible.

But then it was time for Tremor to be loaded onto the semi. And dad returned with that empty halter.

And I wasn’t as prepared as I had thought.

I cried myself to sleep for several nights. And finally, dad sat me down for a chat. He said he knew it was tough. But showing steers would always result in that end. And if I wanted to continue, I’d have to come to terms with that fact.

So I did.

Oh, I cried a bit every year. But I never allowed myself to get quite as attached to another steer after that first year.

Waylon and Lightning learned from each other during Waylon's first year of 4-H.

Our son, Waylon, reached 4-H age this year. And when he and my husband, Craig, found “the one” in an online sale, we purchased him. And Waylon’s first steer, Lightning, entered the barn.

Craig and I knew we needed to be proactive.

We had many talks with him and little brother, Nolan, about the role steers play in feeding the world. That we must take the best care possible of these animals while they’re in our care. And when it’s time, we must say good-bye, knowing it’s their time to fulfill their greater purpose.

Waylon and Lightning made the trip together to local and state shows, and to the Junior National Hereford Expo in Harrisburg, PA. Each show, growing and learning from each other. Each show, improving.

And finally, we ventured to our county fair – Lightning’s final outing.

They had a great final show, with Lightning capturing Champion Hereford Steer honors. He and Waylon worked as a team.

Then sale day arrived. Oh, that dreaded sale day.

Waylon, our often-rational child, handled it very matter-of-factly. To him, this was simply the way it worked. This is why we had a steer, and it was his time. (He gets that rational side from his dad. No doubt.)

But Nolan had many questions about where Lightning was headed and how the process worked. And Craig and I did our best to answer the questions honestly and with care.

So Waylon entered the sale ring with Lightning. And when the auctioneer’s chant was finished, Lightning was sold.

Craig led Lightning to the trailer destined for the sale barn, and the boys said their good-byes.

Two entered the trailer. And Craig exited – with the empty halter in hand.

Cattle teach our children so many incredible life lessons. Some more difficult than others.

But the greatest lesson Lightning taught our boys? That even at the young ages of 9 and 6, our boys can help feed the world. And they emerged proud to play a small role in that enormous responsibility.

They’re already making plans for next year’s steer. And they’re ready to do it again.

Without a doubt, though, they’ll always remember Lightning.

You just never forget that first steer.

Originally posted August 14, 2014, on Drovers Cattle Network.

Aug 19 2014

A Visit to Our Farmer Pen Pal

In late June, I took the kids to visit my Illinois Farm Families pen pal Cindi Monier on her corn and soybean farm just north of Peoria. Cindi let the boys climb on the farm machinery and feed treats to her horses. She explained that their farm's location so close to the Illinois River makes it easy to offload grain to the waiting barges. It bothers her to watch parking lots cover some of the world's choicest farmland. Getting into farming can be tough. There are huge outlays for capital equipment, seed and other supplies. And the competition for land, which drives prices up, doesn't make it any easier.

We visited a neighboring farm where cattle of various breeds go for finishing--gaining weight before being sold for the market. The cattle feed is a mix of corn and supplements, which calm wilder cattle behavior. We gathered eggs and scared the chickens (and they scared us!) at her friend's nearby chicken farm. (These eggs are so fresh! You should see how high the yolks sit in the pan when I fry them for breakfast.)

I didn't expect the animals to be so aware of our presence--the horses came right up to the fence. They were excited we were coming because they knew they were getting a treat from Cindi. The chickens knew we were unfamiliar and had a fit as we approached. And as I was talking to the cattle farmer, I glanced up only to realize that all the cattle had crowded over to the fence to get a look at us because they were curious. Too funny!

We drove to Lacon where a torrential rainfall soaked us as we ran to storefronts from the car to The Pizza Peel. The staff gave us bath towels to dry off and served some great 'za, including a gluten-free one for Isaac. We joined Cindi's husband Breck and his friend having lunch there. They had pulled an all-nighter as volunteer firefighters taking care of a local blaze. In the video, you can see the staff at Kelly Sauder Rupiper Equipment give the boys a ride around the parking lot while Cindi describes to me how the equipment is used. What an excellent trip! I hope to make it back there in the fall to see their operations during harvest.

My son Peter entering the chicken coop

Nesting chickens and clutches of eggs

The cows were curious as we talked to the finisher and walked over to check us out.

The boys had a great time riding in a combine.

Dina Barron
Oak Park, Illinois

Dina 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.


Aug 08 2014

My State Fair Family

It's Illinois State Fair time. A time when kids and their families from across the state come together to display their 4-H projects that they have worked hard on all year. As a child, I always looked forward to going to State Fair. For people who aren't exhibitors, when they think of State Fair, they may think of carnival rides, corn dogs, and funnel cakes. To me, State Fair was none of those things…it was so much more!

To me, the word “family” completely describes our State Fair experience. And by family, I don’t just mean my parents and sisters. What I’m talking about is our “Fair Family.” In addition to showing at our county fair and the Illinois State Fair, we traveled around to several county fairs and showed pigs and cattle, every summer. There were several families, in addition to mine, that also made the circuit with us. And then there were some that we only saw at one or two shows. But all of these people, they were our “Fair Family.” We had our stalls next to each other, we ate meals together, we hung out together, we helped each other, cheered each other on and we made memories together.

Our summer long circuit of showing culminated with a week at State Fair every year. When I think back on the many memories that I have made at the fair, there are WAY too many memories to even begin writing in a single blog post. Some of my favorite memories took place at the actual fair (cheering in the stands as some our friends were named Grand Champion, playing cards in our stalls, eating lunch on the hillside by the chicken barn... and more) but many memories also took place off of the fairgrounds (swimming at the old Holiday Inn, locking ourselves out of our hotel rooms together, eating at Steak 'n Shake by the hotel... and many more inside joke memories that unfortunately are hilarious to us, but readers would just not understand!).

I loved showing, don't get me wrong. I learned a lot about responsibility, and I loved the feeling and anticipation of entering the show ring, waiting to see what place I would be given. I loved the smell of the barns (yes, you read that correctly,) the roars of the fans, the sounds of the animals, and of course, showing. But in the end, my favorite part of my showing and State Fair experience are the memories that I made along the way with my "family."

Danelle Burrs
Hickory Ridge Farm
Dixon, Illinois

Aug 07 2014

Why I Farm: Behind the Movement

4-H Fair is a family tradition.

For nearly 80 years, my grandfather has been involved with our county 4-H program. Yes, you read that correctly. He has seen almost 80 4-H fairs. After being a 10 year 4-H member, he became a volunteer and club leader when he returned home from serving in World War II. The 4-H program isn't just ingrained in our family, it's part of who we are.

With our county 4-H fair starting tomorrow, I've been reminiscing about my 10 years as a 4-H member. Remembering all the sweat, tears and hard work I poured into projects. Thinking about the challenges, mishaps and miscommunication with family members. Because we all know, there are always a few arguments. Laughing about spending the night before crops check-in in the middle of a field, digging up corn and soybean plants. It was always hot, always humid, and the soil always too dry.

Last night as I was digging through photos, I not only ran across pictures of me in 4-H, but also my dad. And one thing was strikingly similar - the Hamilton County 4-H fairgrounds.

As in many counties, the Hamilton County 4-H Fairgrounds is a special place for many families; filled with great memories, family traditions, and lifelong friendships.

And for me it’s not just about great memories, but thinking about the generations to come. I look forward to the moment when my children step into the show arena at the Hamilton County 4-H Fair. But for now, I’ll just enjoy my favorite chocolate and vanilla swirl milkshake.

Originally posted July 16, 2014, on Beck's.

Ashley Fischer

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