Illinois Farm Families Blog

Apr 22 2015

You Bet Your Life On It- Earth Day 2015

You get your hands in it
Plant your roots in it
Dusty head lights dance with your boots in it…

You write her name on it
Spin your tires on it
Build your corn field,
You bet your life on it

It’s that elm shade
Red roads clay you grew up on
That plowed up ground that your dad
Damned his luck on…

You’ve mixed some sweat with it
Taken a shovel to it
You’ve stuck some crosses and some painted
Goal posts through it

You know you came from it
And someday you’ll return to it

The first time I heard Florida Georgia Line’s song Dirt, it struck a chord with me, and I imagine with many other farm families. 150 years ago, my great-great grandfather Daniel Mackinson decided to “bet his life on it”, to “plant his roots in it”.  He decided to start farming near Pontiac and today our family continues to live and farm those original acres plus a few more.  This concept of “dirt” being so important is both symbolic and real.  When Jesse and I got married, we each had 2 containers of dirt, 1 from each of our family farms that we poured into a new container.  This represented the coming together of our families, and the importance of agriculture in our lives. The practical importance of dirt is not to be understated either.

At Mackinson Dairy, we use cow manure as a natural source of fertilizer and follow a detailed manure and nutrient management plan.  In 2011, we worked with engineers and other experts and together, they helped us design and build a manure-handling system.  Our current storage facility holds 2.8 million gallons and it is applied to our fields in the months after harvest. The manure helps improve the productivity and water-holding capacity of the soil.  As recognition of this work, we were awarded the 2013 Conservation Farm Family Award by the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Other examples of sustainable farming practices regarding ‘’dirt’’ include crop rotation which is used to naturally mitigate weeds and to improve soil quality. No-tillage crop farming for soil and fuel conservation involves leaving a field as it is after harvest and then planting over it the next year.   This reduces erosion, retains soil moisture, and conserves fuel.

We believe that using resources wisely and planning for the future so that our children will also be able to not only live here, but to be able to live off the ‘’dirt”. Conservation is part of what do every day at Mackinson Dairy.  The agriculture industry as a whole also continues to work towards achieving a sustainable food system.  You can read more here about what other sustainable work Illinois Dairy farmers are up to.

You might be wondering what you could do to help (even if you aren’t a farmer).  Everyone (me included) can reduce their food waste and this article provides us with 7 simple tips for cutting back on food waste. Our time here is limited so remember that it is our job not only on Earth Day but every day, to protect the land, water, and air for future generations.

You know you came from it

and someday you’ll return to it

Originally posted on Mackinson Dairy.

Mary Mackinson-Faber
Pontiac, IL

Mary raises dairy cattle and grain with her husband, Jesse, and two children in central Illinois. Mary's great-grandfather started the dairy farm over 150 years ago with just a handful of cows. Today, her family continues to live and farm on those original acres. Farming is a history and a passion for Mary and her family!

Apr 19 2015

Farm Families do more than put food on your table...

"Farm families are doing much more than putting food on our tables. They are raising well-rounded, modern-day problem-solvers, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We need more young people like that in our country." 

Alicia Gonzalez
Chicago, IL

Alicia 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.

Apr 14 2015

Tornado Aftermath for Illinois Farmers

Last Thursday, an EF4 tornado ripped through 20 miles of my community in northern Illinois. My farm and family were lucky enough to receive very little damage. Many of our friends and neighbors, however, were not so lucky. As you can see in the picture below, the path of the tornado left the town of Fairdale devastated, but stayed on an otherwise rural path tearing through farms and fields.

So, what does the aftermath of this storm look like for those farmers?

First and foremost, we help our friends and neighbors any way we can to rebuild our community. If a farmer wasn't directly affected by the tornado themselves, you can bet they have every family member and piece of equipment they own at a neighbors house helping to sort through the rubble. This morning, for example, the town of Fairdale is trying to get some of the rubble hauled away so they can continue to sort through what is left of their homes. Every truck and tractor driver helping in Fairdale this morning is a farmer from our community. 

Next, we have to think about planting. As farmers, we are pretty used to Mother Nature running the show, but this year she threw us quite a curve ball. Over the past few weeks, most farmers have been preparing their equipment to begin planting season. If your field was anywhere near that tornado, though, you have some pretty serious clean-up to do before that field is safe for your equipment to be driving through.

The biggest issue is that so much of the debris is large pieces of metal and tin from the buildings that were destroyed. We are also seeing fence posts that are stuck into the ground so far you will need a tractor to pull them out. It is likely that we will be finding debris from this storm for the next 3-5 years, but we need to do the best job we can getting it cleaned up before we can plant anything this year.

At this point, everyone affected by this storm is just hoping for a few weeks of good weather so that we can get as much clean-up done as quickly as we can. So far, the help we have seen through donations and volunteers has been astounding. Farmers are driving here from up to 200 miles away to help run equipment in Fairdale or pick up debris in fields, donation centers are full, and monetary support for the families that lost everything is gaining great momentum thanks to Go Fund Me accounts. 

The sense of community in a small town is always great, but after an event like this, it is even greater. Thank you to everyone who has come forward so far to help however possible- every little bit is appreciated. Even though the news crews are packing up their vans and moving on to other stories, our work here in northern Illinois isn't anywhere close to being done. Hopefully, Mother Nature gives us a little break and we are able to salvage what we can and get our crops into the ground for a successful growing season.

Trent Sanderson
Clare, IL

Apr 13 2015


In the midst of calving season and really any other time of the year – the dairy industry is often the focus of consumer questions and concerns.  The beef industry often flies under the radar.  With the buzz word being TRANSPARENCY, flying under the radar is not always ideal.

I love taking pictures, especially pictures of my cattle (cows, bulls, and calves alike) and, of course, my kids!  A picture is worth a thousand words and this picture below is no different.

This little black-white faced heifer calf was born outside on a sub-zero February morning.  Her mother, a first time mother no less, showed no signs of being close to calving the night before (hence the reason she was born outside).  Right off the bat, during morning chores and calving checks, my husband noticed her.  I was inside getting ready to go to work and I hear the truck back up to the door and moments later I had a newborn calf on my kitchen floor.  And just like that my super soft, but worn out king size sheets were being used to warm up this little icicle of a babe.  My blow dryer that was on it’s last leg was getting a workout.  Her little ears were frozen and just like humans – 5 minutes in sub-zero temperatures – can become frostbit.  I dried, my daughter dried, I dried again and we kept taking turns.  After about an hour inside, this little sweetie was back in the barn with her mother & ready to take on the world. She needed a little extra help nursing for the first time and getting that ever so important colostrum into her system.

Up to this point, this whole process may sound very similar or almost identical to a dairy operation!  Our beef cattle operation is called a cow-calf operation.  Point in case.  A cow is a female bovine that has birthed a calf.  The cows on our farm range in age from 3 – 15 years old.  The goal of our operation is for our cows to produce calves that will yield high quality meat cuts that are in demand in the marketplace.  We keep the top 10% of our heifers for replacement heifers – replacing older cows or cows that have slacked off on raising a calf.  While providing our customers with high quality beef is very important to us, it is equally important that the animals we raise are done so humanely and live a quality life on our farm.  When explaining to others how we go through our “heavy bred” pen every night during calving season to determine which cows need to be put in the barn for the night, some may say that we are babying them.  Some statements made have been such as, “A good cow that is bred right should be able to have a calf unassisted” or “if you help them all the time they will never try to have a calf on their own”.  My immediate response to these comments is always that every operation is different and every producer can run his/her operation the way he or she sees fit! Which is exactly what we do.  My husband and I both have full-time jobs off the farm, therefore our operation is more like a hobby.  It takes up just as much time as our jobs do, but we love every second of it. One calf makes a HUGE difference!  Hence, the reason why we put cows that are close to calving inside at night.

We typically wean our calves when they are between 6-8 months old.  This is different than a dairy operation.  Dairy operations maintain only females on the farm and cows must continue producing milk even after having a calf.  For the safety of dairy calves, they are weaned off within 3-10 hours after calving for safety purposes.  This is where beef operations and dairy operations are different.  In order for beef cattle to grow and eventually produce high quality meat cuts, they must thrive as a calf still nursing, begin consuming small amounts of feed as they get older and then eventually be weaned when they are old to “take care of themselves” and strictly consume grain and/or forage!  A beef calf that is older than 9 months old and still nursing from it’s mother is really doing more harm to the cow than good!  Cows still nursing older calves will begin to lose weight and their overall body condition is poor because that calf is essentially “sucking the life out of them”!  It will take longer for that cow to get back to her optimum body condition after nursing a calf for too long.

Long story short, CATTLE operations – dairy or beef – have one goal in mind…care for animals in a humane and ethical fashion and, of course, feed the world! As always, if you have questions about how your food is produced, please Ask the Farmers!

Originally posted on Ask the Farmers.

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 own and operate a beef cattle farm. 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, as well. You can learn more about their farm on Alison's blog Outside the Ag Room.
Apr 07 2015

What does it mean to be a farm family?

Our City Mom visit to the Gould Farm on a beautiful spring-like day earlier this March began with a warm welcome by several members, indeed generations, of the Gould Family. That warm welcome and that up-close encounter with the family is what has stayed with me most about the hog tour. While many of my colleagues are much more interested in and well-informed about food safety and animal welfare, I have to admit I am always much more interested in the human side of things. 

What does it mean to be a farm family? I think the Goulds are the perfect example. Along with Eldon and Sandy, the patriarch and matriarch, their son, Chris, and his wife Dana, as well as their kids, ranging in age from high-school to college, it seemed like the whole family is involved in the farm in some way or another. This is important because running a modern-day farm requires a multitude of talents and knowledge, from using computer technology and sophisticated software to monitor breeding and average litter size to actually handling the animals and feed. 

During our visit, Chris` teen-age son handled a huge boar, as Chris demonstrated the artificial insemination process to us. As a high school teacher, I am always drawn to how teenagers think, how they learn and how they grow. Meeting Chris and Dana`s kids that day was so refreshing. They are regular high school kids who play sports and take AP classes, but also obviously know hands-on how to run a farm. 

Based on my very limited encounter with the Goulds that day, I can`t help but observe that farm families are doing much more than putting food on our tables.They are raising well-rounded, modern-day problem-solvers, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We need more young people like that in our country. 

Alicia Gonzalez
Chicago, IL

Alicia 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.
Apr 02 2015

Caring for Calves

Even though agriculture was a part of my life growing up, I did not grow up on a farm. My father was a farm laborer and my grandparents had a farm, but I didn’t have much interest in the farm life. So when I married my farmer husband, almost 25 years ago, I knew nothing about exactly what it took to raise animals or farm. But I was very eager to learn, and we soon had dreams and goals that we are determined to meet.

Since we have steadily grown our farm the last 25 years, I’ve learned a lot. We are very diversified, growing wheat, grain sorghum, corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and we have a cow calf herd.

I’m most proud of our cow calf herd. It has taken a lot of work, but we have grown it considerably since we first started. My dad had a few cows growing up, but I was really never around the major part of the work. I would get to go check them with him and I thought they were cute, never realizing just how much work it really was.

I will never forget the first time that my husband had to bring a baby calf into our home to warm it up. It was born on a night when the temperatures were below freezing, and the calf would die if he did not get it dried off and warmed up quickly. My husband woke me up to help him get towels and a hairdryer (my only hairdryer!) to dry the baby off so that it could go back to its mother.

At first, I did not like the idea of an afterbirth baby calf being in my house. Soon, though, the motherly instincts kicked in, and I realized that I had to help save this calf.

We saved the calf that night, and it triggered something in me that has never left. I realized just how much farmers and ranchers care for their animals and just how much work it really takes to raise them. Nowadays when the cows are calving, it’s not unusual for us to have a baby calf or two at my feet on the floor of our pickup truck warming them up.

And, now, we have a special hair dryer dedicated for cold calves only.

Calving season is upon us, and this will all become reality once again, but I wouldn’t change any of it for anything in the world. I take great pride in caring for and raising something that feeds our nation and my family.

Originally posted on America's Farmers.

Stacey Forshee

Mar 30 2015

Spring on our Farm: The Hampton-Knodle Family


Last week looked totally different than today’s sunny weather that had our boys in shorts. We now have 3 calves on the ground in our new beef cattle enterprise.

Heather Hampton-Knodle
Fillmore, IL

Mar 23 2015

Spring on Our Farm: Rachel Asher

Due to the extreme cold this year, we had to rush one of the calves home for a hot bath. We used our extra large sink in the basement of our home to soak the little one in warm water until her blood warmed up. I soaked her for about an hour and a half. Because calves are soaking wet when they are born, it is important to get them somewhere warm right away. 

One of my favorite times of year is calving season. They are all so cute, fun loving and eager to explore the world around them. It can be dangerous working with the protective mothers, but together we work to give the little ones a safe home where they can grow and thrive. 

My view this evening while checking the cows. We check the pregnant cows 3 or 4 times a day looking for any signs of difficulty calving or see if there are any new calves we need to move to the pasture. 

I couldn't help but snap a quick photo when I checked on this photogenic mamma and her baby. We are all so ready for spring!

Rachel Asher
Ursa, IL

You can learn more about Rachel and her farm on her blog: Dare to Dream with Rachel
Jan 16 2015

Twelve Words that Mean Something Completely Different on the Farm

Only two percent of Americans are farmers. Several more work with the industry while a few more simply live in rural areas. For all those people, these dual meanings might be second nature, but for the rest of us, talking to a farmer can be really confusing!

Clear up your confusion below!

1) Combine

What it usually means: To unite or merge – like you would combine the flour and baking soda in a recipe

What it means on the farm: A machine which moves down the grain field removing the seeds from the stems of ripe plants of grains

2) Elevator

What it usually means: A platform or compartment housed in a shaft for raising and lowering people or things to different floors or levels, i.e. “Take the elevator to the penthouse and look around.”

What it means on the farm: A building or terminal where grain is elevated and transferred to an alternate mode of transportation (e.g. truck to rail, rail to ship)

3) Chick

What it usually means: A young woman – sometimes called out from a construction site as an attractive lady walks by

What it means on the farm: A baby chicken

4) Head

What it usually means: The upper part of the human body typically separated from the rest of the body by a neck, and containing the brain, mouth, and sense organs

What it means on the farm: The “scissors” of the combine – there is actually a “corn head” and a “bean/wheat head.”

5) Pen

What it usually means: An instrument for writing or drawing with ink

What it means on the farm: A stall for an animal

6) Pod

What it usually means: A group of prison cells 

What it means on the farm: The container for seeds on a legume plant

7) Weed

What it usually means: The most commonly used slang word for marijuana

What it means on the farm: A plant that is not valued where it is growing and in competition with cultivated plants

8) Stalk

What it usually means: To harass or persecute (someone) with unwanted and obsessive attention, i.e. “Quit stalking me!”

What it means on the farm: The trunk or stem of corn

9) Field

What it usually means: An area of level ground, as in a park or stadium, where athletic events are held

What it means on the farm: An area of open land, especially one planted with crops or pasture, typically bounded by hedges or fences

10) Hybrid

What it usually means: A car with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, each of which can propel it

What it means on the farm: Seed produced by cross-pollinated plants; one of the main contributors to the dramatic rise in agricultural output

11) Sprout

What it usually means: A vegetable that you cook with; usually a topping on a sandwich

What it means on the farm: When a crop begins to grow; shoot forth, as a plant from a seed

12) Maze/maize

What it usually means: A series of paths that are designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way.

What it means on the farm: The scientific term for corn.

Elizabeth O’Reilly
ICMB Communications Intern
Illinois State University student

This blog originally appeared on June 24, 2014 on

Jan 09 2015

Advice for the Winner of ABC's The Bachelor from a Former City Girl

It was a cold and wintry afternoon when I noticed the light on in the garage. When I entered the garage I was perplexed at what I saw; potting soil, seed packets, and cups scattered about, and my 4 year old daughter’s dirt, smudged face staring at me. I asked her, “What is going on?” Big blue eyes looking up at me, pleading in her voice, hands raised in exasperation, “I just NEED to grow something!” It made me laugh then, but that was the moment I realized the different ways people can love farming.

My daughter and husband have been raised on a farm. The love of farming is in their blood. At times they can’t describe it or explain it. They have a desire within them to work the ground, to grow crops, and care for animals; to them it’s as normal as breathing. Their love for farming is like the love a mom has for her baby, a natural love.

I grew up in the city with no farming background. I married a farmer and discovered that farming is real and hard, consuming at times. I have had to call a cheer coach and say we would be late to practice because the cows were out and we had to tend to the cows before anything else. I have rushed from a game with my children, niece, and nephew to help put up hay before it rained. I have seen sunsets sitting on a truck tailgate, enjoying a meal with my family in the fields. I have worked beside my husband and daughters to plant, cultivate, and harvest a crop. I have also worked beside my husband and daughters to plant and cultivate the land to see that due to the weather there would be no harvest; I have wiped away the sweat and tears and known that we would try again next year. It is like the love a husband and wife share. As the years come and go the love grows stronger and deeper until I won’t be able to recall not feeling this way. That is how I love farming.

 As I have grown from a city girl into a farm mom this is my advice to the bachelorettes and the bachelor farmer; farming is hard, but so are most things that are really worth doing. Just as being a mother/father or wife/husband is hard work. Farming is not just an occupation it is a way of life. Be patient with each other and willing to grow together.

Sherri Kannmacher
Martinsville, IL

Sherri and her husband Mark grow beef, grains, hay and four daughters. Mark is the fourth generation of his family to farm in Illinois. When they met, Sherri was a California city girl. She fell in love with him and then with farming. Now she's proud to call herself a farm mom. In fact, in 2012 she was the Midwest Farm Mom of the Year.

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