“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. 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.” –Sara Prescott, Lincoln, IL #FarmersOfIllinois
Illinois Farm Families Blog
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.
Cover crops are one tool we use to help maintain the health of our soil on the farm. This cereal rye grass looks a lot like wheat, but it actually gets planted before winter hits and the roots help to add organic matter to the soil and decrease erosion.
We have 8 calves "on the ground" now. It's neat to watch a few of the cows take turns guarding the calves while the others graze.
Heather Hampton Knodle
Heather and her husband, Brian, both come from multiple generations of farming and continue that family tradition today on their farm in Montgomery County with their four children. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat cattle and goats. Heather and Brian take their role as stewards of the land very seriously and work every day to leave the soil on their farm in better condition than the day before so that it can be fruitful for future generations to come.
This morning as we loaded the girls onto the trailer they were very vocal about taking a trip. Little did they know that their day was about to become perfect with a pasture full of green grass to feast on. As we pulled into the pasture their eyes lit up with excitement and, since then, they have been pretty darn quiet, mostly because their mouths are full of yummy grass. If cows could smile they would be grinning from ear to ear! Happy munching girls.
When things calm down long enough to sit and reflect (and seeing as I am finally hitting the “uncomfortable point” with 7 weeks to go in my own pregnancy, sitting is the position of choice as of late), it reminds me how many things we do on the farm every day that are completely foreign to those that have never seen it. I’ve been working in livestock barns since I was old enough to walk and talk. Our families’ Christmas cards usually contain as many animals as people.
When you are young on the farm, you are taught how to care for animals and you get to see the results of that care. Working with animals every day, you learn what the signs are for sick, hungry, thirsty, and uncomfortable. I admit I typically take for granted knowing and understanding these signs, and knowing what to do to fix them the best I can everyday. Just because an animal squeals, chews on something, or does something else “odd”, doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Our cows chewed and removed all the insulation out of the garage doors in our new barn. Weird, yes; inhumane, no. Pigs will chew on anything near them. We had to move the locations of the outside hog pens every spring break because the pigs would have destroyed nearly everything in them within a year. I’ve said many times that I talk to the animals (a lot), and they have yet to answer me (thankfully). Until they do, I have to use my knowledge and understanding of the “signs” to do the best I can. I believe that all farmers do the best they can every day. I have yet to meet one that doesn’t.
And, then, one of these undercover videos showing suspected farm animal abuse comes out and I worry consumers aren’t getting the whole story. When someone abuses any animal, it makes my blood boil as much as the next person, and I’ll wholeheartedly support punishing abuse. Period. But, some things are blown out of proportion. When I step back and think about the things that we do with our animals on the farm, I realize that some of them may seem less than desirable through a different lens. However, we (farmers and consumers alike) both want to provide the best care possible for animals. The same method or production practice may not be the best option for every animal or farm. Each farmer needs to judge for themselves what works best for their farm and animals. There are legitimate reasons for different farm methods Maybe we as farmers don’t do the best job of sharing, showing, and explaining what these methods are, and why we do them. But, that is the goal of the Field Mom program, so that they can see everything we do, ask questions, and get the information from the source of where their food comes from. And, in turn, we as farmers, can see what we do through a different lens, and get a fresh perspective.
Carrie Pollard, MS
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.
See more photos from Illinois farm on our Instagram account! Follow us @ilfarmfam.
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.
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 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.
My Farmer and I have never been the typical Valentine ’s Day couple. He has a standing order at the local flower shop, and a bouquet of daisies (my favorite flower) is delivered three times a year – Valentine’s Day, birthday and anniversary. I fail miserably at staying on top of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Rarely do I remember a card and usually try to prepare a nice steak and potatoes meal for the family to enjoy.
While I appreciate the sentiment of setting aside one day to honor and celebrate relationships, often farm families and couples must plan around work. My Farmer and I were married in September, therefore we’ve spent our anniversary together just three times . . . because it rained and harvest had to stop.
Because of schedules, kids’ activities and farm work, this Valentine’s Day was celebrated early.
At the end of January, My Farmer and I spent a date night at a fundraising event for a local FFA Alumni chapter. The group served a pulled pork meal complete with homemade desserts. There was an auction, raffle and many friends and neighbors with whom we laughed.
During the auction, I bought a pie. It was simple cherry pie made by the woman who served as my 4-H leader so many years ago. She leaned forward during the bidding and whispered, “I used lard to make the crust.” Best crust ever!
My Farmer’s favorite pie is cherry and our little trees have yet to produce enough fruit to preserve for surprise winter pies. I spent $150.00 on the pie and got a big thank you hug in return.
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.
The 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...
In 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.
One 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.
Good Hope, IL