It's a passion for farmers to raise these animals with as much care as they would any animal.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

May 27 2016

A between-the-rows view

I went out at dawn a couple weeks ago. I lay down between the rows of corn, gripped my camera. Waited.

The sun was slow in rising that day. It had been a cloudy night, following a string of cloudy days. Dew clung to tiny leaves but the dirt was dry and it stuck to my sweatshirt. Eventually, the sun began to peek through the clouds.

As I lay there, I thought about the words of a farm wife from an interview about a hundred years ago. I was in college and trying to put together a story for a magazine writing class. I went home for spring break and sat down with several farm women, including Debbie Glover, who farms with her husband, Danny, near Bone Gap, just north of my hometown.

We talked about her life on the farm and she asked, “What kind of crazy people are we? We put this seed out there in the ground and we expect it to grow. And that’s faith.”

I lay there for a while the other morning thinking about that bit of wisdom. On that morning, we’d had a long string of cloudy, damp, cool weather. The corn was looking a little pale. A little peeked. But after the sun pushed through, it was a beautifully sunny, 78-degree day, and I believe if you’d stood still long enough that day, you could’ve watch this corn green back up.

And that’s faith, right?

That we’ll spend $300 on a bag of seed corn, put it in the ground, watch it come up. Watch it green up. Put on the right amount of fertilizer. Keep the weeds at bay. Watch out for the bugs. And expect it to grow. Expect it to help feed 7 billion people all over the world.

And then that same morning, my friend, Sally Lock shared a similar photo between the rows of their cornfield and said, “He who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see, believes in God." 

She’s right. That phrase comes from a poem by Elizabeth York Case called Unbelief. A portion:

There is no unbelief.

Whoever plants a seed beneath the sod,

And waits to see it push away the clod,

He trusts in God.

And here we sit with a crop that looks astoundingly good in western Illinois, as our friends in southern Illinois contemplate arduous decisions about whether to rip up their first planting and start over. #Plant16 is turning into #Replant16 for too many of them. But you can’t do anything about rain that won’t stop falling.

And that’s faith, too.



Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

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Holly Spangler
Marietta, IL

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

May 16 2016

Two Different Farms, One Common Goal.

On Saturday, March 19, I had the opportunity to visit another Illinois cattle farm. Illinois cattle farms are not as large as the ranches out west, and they are mostly family farms. This farm tour was the perfect complement to the two cattle tours I have already attended, first to a cattle finishing farm and then to a dairy farm. This third tour is where it all begins in beef production: a cow/calf farm. 

Sara Prescott was on our bus for the ride from Arlington Heights to Sandwich, Illinois, talking about her experience running a cow/calf operation of about 100 beef cows. The cow/calf farm is where it all begins in beef production. The Prescott farm breeds cows to have calves, which they sell to cattle finishing farms, and from these farms the grown calves are sold for beef. 

Prescott Angus & Simmental

Sara isn’t able to walk out of her farmhouse to take care of her cattle. She lives with her husband and three children in town, and their cattle live on farmland rented from various landowners. One farm is a twenty minute drive from her house, the other is 45 minutes away. For a farmer, Sara spends a lot of time commuting!

Since her husband also works full time at a cattle feed company, Sara takes on a lot of responsibility for the cattle. During a typical day, she drops her two daughters off at school and takes her little boy with her to check on the cattle farms. They are lucky to be able to hire someone to help feed and check on their cattle at their farm near Lincoln, Illinois. Their cattle live outdoors year round. They own about 5 bulls to breed with their cows, which is done naturally (without artificial insemination). The cows are bred to have calves that are small in size, and so the cow usually has no difficulty giving birth to her calf. First time mothers sometimes need help bonding with their calf. Sara pays close attention to these cows who are about to give birth for the first time. She wants to see the cow get up and lick the calf right after it is born, to know that the calf is her baby. The calf should stand up about 15 minutes after it is born to nurse. 

The calves drink their mothers’ milk for about 6 months. When they are 3 months old, they are introduced to solid food, so that the weaning process is easier for them. After the calves are weaned, they are sold to a finishing farm, where they grow and gain weight before they are sold for beef production.

Adams Farm

We got off the bus at the Adams farm near Sandwich, Illinois. The Adams family has been raising beef cattle for almost 60 years, along with raising crops. Their herd has 59 beef cows. Alan Adams used to think that he didn’t need to communicate with consumers. He was content to raise beef cattle as his family had been doing for years without taking the time to connect with moms like us. He changed his mind, however, and has taken a very active role in the City Moms program as he realized the importance of connecting with consumers. He took the time to talk with us about breeding, antibiotics, hormones and manure management on that Saturday morning. 

Unlike Sara, Alan does live on his farm in close proximity to his cattle. The Adams family has several barns, and the cattle live in the barns during the winter. Around May 1, they are let out to pasture. The cows spend the summer grazing in the pastures with their calves beside them. While the Adams do lease some land, they also own much of their farmland. To breed their cows, they use artificial insemination. Just as Sara does, they make sure to breed the cows to have smaller calves so that calving goes smoothly. 


While farming may look a little different when comparing Sara’s farms to Alan’s, they both have one thing in common: They are both caring farmers who have a love for livestock and take care of their animals’ needs to provide quality beef to consumers like you and me. 

Sara has written a wonderful article about the humane care of animals, along with other information about Prescott Farms. Read all about it here.


Related posts:
From Farm to Table: Milk's Journey

Mount Prospect, IL

Christa 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. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)


May 05 2016

Illinois Farmer Q&A: Have you ever gone above and beyond to ensure the health or safety of your animals?

You have questions about how animals are cared for on farms, and Illinois farmers have those answers. We asked local farmers your questions about animal welfare so you can get your answers straight from the source. Let's talk about what's on your table.


Have you ever gone above and beyond to ensure the health or safety of your animals?

"The cattle almost always come first. The kids have to feed their calves before we eat supper at night. During the winter, if there's times where it's going to be really cold, we'll give them a little extra feed, and we've also put their hay in the shed during snowstorms. Frozen drinkers can also be an issue in cold weather. I've carried hot water out to thaw drinkers in well below zero temps. It's not much fun working with water in those temps, but the cattle can't go without it!"

Lori Engel

"We have walked through whiteout blizzard conditions to check on cows who are 3 miles away 3 times a night before they are expected to calve, and then worked with the cow from midnight to 1 a.m. to convince it to get into the chute so we could help pull the calf that is not able to make it out on its own. Then, from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m we had to get the pulling equipment secured around the calf’s legs without hurting it, yet with the ability to pull it gradually without hurting the cow either. Finally, we pulled a slippery, gangly calf that weighed more than 100 pounds up over a fence to help fluids drain from its nose and mouth. All of this was followed by several days of milking sessions with the cow and calf to help them both figure out how it’s supposed to work. To a cow-calf producer, that might be considered going the distance.  To someone else, it might be considered above and beyond."

Heather Hampton Knodle

"When the power has gone off on our farm, we will stay with our animals until the power comes back on.  We will check on the animals to make sure they are not too hot or cold and have plenty of food and water."

Brent Scholl

"During calving time (January - March), we are constantly paying close attention to the weather forecast.  It is important to make sure that baby calves have a place to get in out of the weather when temperatures are really cold.  There are many times that we have gone back outside during the late hours of the night to put cows and calves into a pen in the barn to make sure that they stayed out of the weather.  Contrary to some people's beliefs, cattle are very well suited for the climate in Illinois.  Generally speaking, the cold & hot temperatures (within reason) do not affect them like some would think.  Most cattle are intelligent enough to go to shelter when it's cold, shade when it's hot or a pond or creek when it's hot. It is important to provide those necessities to our cows so they can stay as comfortable as possible."

Alison McGrew

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Apr 29 2016

Farmers of Illinois: Sara Prescott

Get to know more local farmers on Instagram. #FarmersOfIllinois

“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.”
 

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Sara Prescott
Lincoln, IL

Sara and her husband, Michael, raise cattle on their farm in central Illinois. They hope to one day pass the farm onto their children, Madison, Emma, and Carter. For now, they are working on raising their children with the values they believe in and involve the kids in the process of raise cattle from the time they are born until they leave the farm.

Apr 26 2016

Why the meal in the field?

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

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

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

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

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

May we all have lots of good days this season.



Originally posted on Prairie Farmer: My Generation.

Related Posts:

Holly Spangler
Marietta, IL

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

Apr 08 2016

Farm Update Spring 2016

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.

Related posts:
Greener Pastsures
Our First Calf of 2016 Has Arrived!

Heather Hampton Knodle
Fillmore, IL

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.

Apr 01 2016

Greener Pastures

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.



Learn more about how farmers care for their animals here.

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Sara Prescott
Lincoln, IL

Sara and her husband, Michael, raise cattle on their farm in central Illinois. They hope to one day pass the farm onto their children, Madison, Emma, and Carter. For now, they are working on raising their children with the values they believe in and involve the kids in the process of raise cattle from the time they are born until they leave the farm.
Mar 24 2016

Dairy Care Through a Different Lens

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. 

dairy farmer

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. 

Related posts:
Illinois Farmer Q&A: Do you choose to raise your animals indoors or outdoors- why?
What I saw on a hog farm
Sometimes We Are Mean to Our Cows

Carrie Pollard, MS
Rockford, IL

Carrie and her husband, Brent, work with dairy cows and pigs in northern Illinois. Learn more about everyday happenings on their farm by reading her blog, My Cows and Pigs.

Mar 23 2016

Raising Families, Food and Awareness

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


What does humane treatment mean to you?  

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

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

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

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

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

Lincoln, IL
Feb 23 2016

Our first calf of 2016 has arrived!

"Our first calf this season was born under the full moon on Sunday night. We might call her Lightning Bolt, she is pretty speedy!"

cow and calf on illinois farm

See more photos from Illinois farm on our Instagram account! Follow us @ilfarmfam.


Fillmore, IL

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.