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Illinois Farm Families Blog

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.

Feb 08 2016

Barn report: Early-morning education

Friday morning. The kids were awake. I was getting breakfast, and my biggest problem at that moment lay in taking stock of who wanted egg-in-a-hole and who absolutely didn’t want egg-in-a-hole. Then John stuck his head in the back door: Nathan’s heifer was calving and we had to pull it. Now.

Just like that we went from, “Hey, who wants egg-in-a-hole,” to “Hey, let’s go pull a calf and you’ll probably be late to school!”

barn chores educationTo their credit, the kids got on it. Jenna and Nathan threw on coveralls and boots and headed out. They helped pull the calf, learned some new words, and came back inside. Too late for the bus, but not too late to warm up the egg-in-a-hole. I drove them into town and we made it to school with seconds to spare.

As I drove home, I thought how quickly those kids turned on a dime that morning. In a heartbeat, they shifted gears from getting ready for school, to pulling on coveralls, saving a life, cleaning back up, eating breakfast and heading to school to take a spelling test.

That’s the thing about farm life, isn’t it? You learn to roll with the punches. Do what you need to do.

It’s a valuable life skill, whether you end up on the farm or not. When you intended to plant corn and then it rains. Or you just put up new buildings and the bottom falls out of the hog market. Or you’re working in an office and your boss says you’ve been reassigned. Or you find out your loved one has cancer.

Those skills you learned so young and practiced so repeatedly on the farm come in handy. You  straighten your back, you assess what you need to do now, and then you do it. To heck with your plans.

And I’ll tell you what else I noticed that morning: everyone got along like champions. They were a true team. Talking and laughing and joking about how it all went down, encouraging each other in the car, wishing good luck on the spelling test. Perhaps “working well under pressure” is an inherited trait. Or maybe we need to pull calves every morning.

We weren’t late to school but even if we had been, my principal friend Chris Janssen reminded me: Never let school get in the way of education.

Never has that been more true.

Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

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.

Jan 22 2016

Illinois Farm Images on Instagram

Are you on Instagram? Be sure to follow us @ilfarmfam for more images like this one from local Illinois farmers!

calf bottle in dishwasher

Repost from Holly Spangler:

"It's that time of year again: CALVING. My dishwasher and sink will wash bottles, my laundry will catch any manner of nasty calving clothes and blankets, and sleep is optional. So are plans, which brings to mind the following timeless farm wife advice: livestock and weather will be the greatest detriment to any plans you ever make. Amen. And may these little four-legged darlings hold off on the coldest days."

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 21 2015

Farmers Don’t Stop Farming In the Winter

With blasts of arctic air hitting all throughout the midwest, and northeast, it’s hard to think that someone would WILLINGLY go out into this weather. Some people don’t have a choice. Some of those people happen to be the farmers that continue to check on the livestock that may bring you your milk, butter, eggs, and meat. It’s a difficult job, but someone has to do it. I’m so grateful (at the moment) that the someone is not me. 

My son has always wanted to live on a farm. Yes. Even at 14, he still talks about tending to a field of crops, and animals, and for the most part, I think he’s thinking that an acre is the biggest it can get. Especially when I explained that an acre is about the size of a football field. After telling him that some farmers have 200 acres, or sometimes even thousands of acreage that they tend to, he looked a little green in the face. It led to an interesting discussion about what farmers HAVE to do, and how they can’t take time off because of weather. Rain, extreme heat, or frigid temperatures do not keep these hard-working men and women in bed like so many of us can afford to do. Temperatures in Chicago drop below 0 degrees quite often during the winter months. Last January, we had a record-breaking day that was easily -45 and some of us had the option of staying safe and warm in our homes. Our city shut down for the most part, and it was amazing to see, Chicago, a bustling city, relatively quiet. a

winter on the farmAfter visiting a hog farm a couple of years ago, I was reminded during that time, that farmers don’t get to call off. They still have to go and check on their flock, and make sure that their needs are being met, and that they are well taken care of. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, or for those that don’t know how to bundle. We were cold walking from the barn to the pen, and I couldn’t imagine doing it daily. 

I’m realizing that farming isn’t just one of those jobs that you say – this looks easy! – it’s all about focus, and making sure that the crop, or livestock that you’re caring for, is the best for potential customers. Whether that be at a farmers market, or your local grocery store. Given that the majority of the farmers also consume what they grow, I’m sure that they would want the best for THEIR families as well. This is for organic AND non-organic farmers. I’m sure that they want the quality of whatever they are tending to, to best meet the needs of their family, and their customers. Otherwise they are out of a job. 

Originally posted on Houseful of Nicholes.

Chicago, IL

Natasha was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 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, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Dec 10 2015

20 Items on Every Farm Mom's Christmas List

Call me crazy, but I keep a wish list all the time of the things I want.  If I don't, I have a hard time giving my family ideas for Christmas and birthdays.  Let's be honest, the list is useless to some people (aka my husband) because they wait until the day of anyway!  He may consider not waiting until the last minute when he realizes that there are a few of my wish list items that he can definitely get some use out of, too!

This is a short list of ideas that one might find on a farmer's list this holiday season or even the occasional birthday. I also added some ideas that are on my list and may be on yours too - farmer's wife, daughter, country girl at heart, busy agriculture major, etc.

This list is made up of ideas of mine and my family members, as well as ideas from some of my ag/farmer friends!  Read on, friends :)

1.  Farm name/logo apparel - Who doesn't love a new jacket with the farm name & logo on it?

2.  A farm sign - Win, win here!

3.  Attachments for the tractor (bale spear, pallet forks, loader bucket, etc) - Practical for sure!

4.  Work coat or outerwear - A must to help survive the bitter cold months.

5.  Electric thawing unit - A must to use when breeding cows artificially.

6.  Livestock show supplies - Never enough halters, feed pans, combs, brushes and show sticks.

7. Work boots or rubber boots - A necessity for sure! 

8.  The Pioneer Woman "Dinnertime" cookbook - no caption needed...this is a must. 

9.  Cast iron skillet - A given once you receive #8. 

10. Custom farm/ranch brand ring, bracelet or necklace - Lots of handmade goodness! 

11. Slow cooker/Crockpot - An extra large one....enough said. 

12. Clothing from Duluth Trading Co. - Quality clothing with funny names & descriptions. 

13. A puppy.  This is NOT on my list this year, but more power to you if it is on yours! 

14. Pampered Chef Rectangular Baker - need a replacement for my favorite dish. 

15.  Alex & Ani bracelet - Gentlemen take note, simple and sentimental gift for the gals. 

16.  St. Louis Cardinals STUFF - Yes, stuff.  Tickets, shirt, keychain, anything! :) 

17.  Generator - I really wish this was NOT on my husband's list, but it is. We've lost power like 3 times in 6 months. Not cool. :( 

18.  Rite in the Rain gear - Perfect for the outdoorsman! 

19.  Agriculture related photo print - Home decor for the farmer. 

20.  Gloves - Warm ones. Period. 

I think you get the idea and realize that farmers and their families Christmas lists have a lot in common with everyone else's list!  There is always the occasional live animal on the list too. :) 

Regardless of the items on your wish list,  I hope you have a blessed Holiday season spent in the company of family & friends. 

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

Originally posted on Outside the Ag Room.

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.

Dec 07 2015

The farm boy and the (escaped) heifers

You know how cows have this sixth sense for when you leave the farm? And then they promptly exit stage left? And you say, “Well, of course. Frankly, I’m surprised it took them this long.”

That happened Sunday. John and I ran up the road to lead music at our early church service. Came back home 30 minutes later. While we were gone, Nathan, 10, looked out the window to see heifers running down the road.

John, Jenna, Grandpa and I were all at church.

Nathan flew into action. Instructed his little sister to call Grandma. Hopped into the Ranger and went after the heifers who were, by this point, headed east to the neighbor’s field. Got them back in, gate shut, squared away, all before Grandma got there.

kids and cows

When we arrived home, the heifers were penned and looking guilty, and Nathan was circling the perimeter checking for any strays. He wheeled up to brief us on the situation and you have never seen a prouder 10 year old in all your years. Granted, he did it in his church khakis and they may still be soaking because a farmer’s gotta do what he’s gotta do, but still.

Nathan was a man on a mission. There was a problem and he solved it. By himself. Success.

Seriously, now. Is there a greater accomplishment when you’re 10?

This is why we do this. Forget cattle prices and markets and weather and whatever. I have no doubt that morning will be etched in Nathan’s memory forever because his ability and responsibility and accomplishment all grew ten-fold over the course of an hour.

“I did it. All by myself.”

Those are the words of a farm kid.

Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

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.

Nov 27 2015

Let's Go to the Movies

So Joe and I went to the movies yesterday.

No, it wasn't to see Mockingjay, Part Two (which we are both hoping to see. I know, nerds.)

No, it wasn't The Peanuts Movie with the kids (which we are both hoping to also see. Yes, nerds again.).

It was Farmland.

Yes, Farmland. For those of you who did not give birth to twins or have a major home renovation, I'm sure you're rolling your eyes that I, a self-proclaimed advocate for agriculture, had not actually seen this award winning movie yet.

I'm sorry. 2014 was not a year in which I saw movies.

Unless you count movies I listen to as my kids watch them in the car.


I finally sat down to watch Farmland, thanks to the good folks at our county Farm Bureau. You see, this was an outreach event. Joe was to emcee the whole shebang, leading the farmer panel afterward. We headed to Galesburg and the beautiful Orpheum Theater, the one where I graced the stage as a hairlip sister in the musical, Big River, and tap danced (poorly) in Crazy for You.


The Orpheum Theater is a restored theater in the heart of Galesburg, the biggest town in our county. The most urban area our county Farm Bureau could reach. After the Santa Clause parade, the doors to the theater opened up for a free showing of this movie.

Nice, huh?

That's not my point. We are nice people here, but the movie, friends, it is something to behold.

I'm not going to give you a whole review of it, as it just needs to be seen. It is award winning for a reason, and it's not because of its one-sided view on agriculture. Represented in this cast are conventional, production farmers, organic producers, small CSA/Farmer's Market growers, and livestock producers. The verbage is easy for those of us who don't speak "ag," without being insulting. The story follows a growing season, thus makes it a logical conclusion when harvest hits.

What really struck me, and got me misty-eyed was the story. As advocates, we are told to tell our story, tell our story, tell our story. However, telling your story in a "I grow blah, blah, and we do it this way because blah, blah." is, in fact, BLAH, BLAH.

There are few folks who want to hear the nuts and bolts of farming before they know that you have a heart, a soul, and a story. You can feel the heartbeat in this movie. It shows the brothers disagreeing, the son missing his recently deceased father, the rancher welcoming twins (not calves, kids). There's the only child who's mom still makes him a sandwich, and the daughter who set out on her own to farm who's mom thought she was crazy. These are real people with real stories who were given the opportunity to really share.

Friends, if you have questions about ag, this is a good place to start.

To start.

After this, however, I implore you to ask more questions. I loved the farmer panel aspect of the movie viewing we had last night. This is a movie that has no agenda. There's no scare tactic used to lead you to believe that what you're eating is terrible. There's no hidden camera footage, other than the snippets that have been floating around the Internet that we all have seen. For lack of a better term, this movie felt organic, real, truthful.

I urge you to see it, if you haven't already, since it HAS been out for over a year.

Ask questions, seek truths, and enjoy some popcorn while you're at it.

Originally posted on Confessions of a Farm Wife.

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.

Nov 13 2015

7 Things Great Farmers Do Every Day

1. Wake up and never complain

Every farmer that I know wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to feed their cattle or milk their cows and I never hear them complain.  They know their life could be a lot worst but they are optimistic about life.  The farmers are happy to have their cattle and family so they continue to be joyous everyday.

2. Volunteer in the local community

Local firefighter.  School board member.  Farm Bureau board member.  4-H club leader.  These are all of the hats that a farmer wears plus being a full time farmer.  Farmers love giving back to their community.  They were raised to be polite, well mannered people, and always give back.  One way a farmer gives back is by donating their time and money back into the community that they live in.

3. Take environmental safety very seriously

There are many groups believing that farmers are dumping gallons of pesticides and herbicide on their land just because they can.  This video proves that wrong.

Let’s put the cost of applying fertilizer and pesticide to a real world example.  Let’s say that a farmer has an 80-acre field. 1 acre is the size of a football field without the end zones attached.  The cost to apply 1 acre of pesticides is $60 and 1 acre of fertilizer is $148.  That is $208 an acre.  If you multiple 80 acres by $208, that is $16,640!  A farmer does not want to apply anymore fertilizer than they have to because would have to spend more money.  Farmers care for the land.  They want to preserve it because they need to use it year after year.  The farmer wants to make sure that the land with be healthy for themselves, their children, and their grand children.

4. Use the safest modern techniques to provide food for the world

If you every see a field with straight rows, we can thank GPS for that.  Many old farmers claim that their rows will always be straighter but GPS helps farmers be more productive.  With the use of a GPS, farmers that spray pesticides on crops use the technology to apply the accurate amount pesticide on the crop.  The technology allows the farmers to drive through the field and allow them not to over apply the spray on the crops.  This saves time and money for the farmer. 

5. Bring life into the world everyday

Farmers get the opportunity to watch cows, ewes, and sows give birth on a daily basis.  The farmers assist them if they need help with the birth process and love them everyday after they are born!  There are some that believe that farmers beat their animals and treat them inhumanly.  This is absolutely incorrect.  If a farmer wants their animals to grow big and strong, they need to treat them with tender, love, and care and THEY DO!

6.Feed us everyday

From the orange juice you drink in the morning to the beeryou have at the bar, you can thank a farmer for that.  Farmers allow you to eat everyday and at anytime of day.  Next time you see a farmer, say thank you!

7. Educate everyone on their farming practices

One of the greatest things farmers do is educate consumers about their farming practices and tell them how their food starts at the farm gate and ends at the dinner plate.  There is a lot of confusion on the agriculture practices that farmers use but if someone has a questions about it, GO ASK A FARMER! Most farmers are willing to take someone on their farm and and show them around.  I have even seen farmers advocate about their practices on the streets in Downtown Chicago.  They are willing to educate consumers really about anywhere.

Originally posted on Corn Corps.

Perry Harlow
Illinois State University

Nov 06 2015

Love, loss and livestock

It’s been one of those weeks on the farm; Olaf the Bottle Calf has died.

One night late last week, John knew he wasn’t feeling great and kept him in the barn overnight. He went out the next morning and Olaf was dead. If you recall, Olaf was the bottle calf who came to be last spring, a twin whose momma stepped on his leg and broke it. Olaf struggled with pneumonia at one point and overall, we all knew he wasn’t as healthy as he should’ve been; milk replacer is good, but it’s not as good as your momma.

farm girl and calfFrom the start, he belonged to Caroline, our seven year old. She loved him and fed him and showed him all over the county over the summer, shaking in her boots the first time but determined to do it.

Sweet little Caroline’s heart broke just a little bit when I told her. Her little shoulders crumpled, hot tears fell and she asked all the questions: Why did he get sick? Why did he die? Why couldn’t he have lived? I told her she gave him such a good life while he was here, caring for him so well. Olaf loved the attention.

That night, I sat in bed with Caroline and she asked, as honestly and earnestly as any seven year old can: “Mom, why do all the bad things happen to me? My best friend moved away, my bottle calf died.”

My heart.

I told her I didn’t know. But that it’s in the hard stuff that God makes us into better people.

These days are full of sadness. An empty show halter that was Olaf’s. A dozen crayon-colored pictures. But a day will come when she’ll look back and know this experience shaped her young life. Like every farmer before her, she’ll know what it is to have loved an animal, to have raised it, and to have lost it.

Maybe it’ll even be an award-winning FFA speech someday.

I don’t know. But this I do know: the Lord used that sickly little calf to enlarge her heart, to help her do hard things, to grant her responsibility, and to teach her to grieve.

That we might all be so fortunate to have an Olaf.

Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

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.