The latest farm tour was a two-for-one adventure. On the Martz/Larson Farm in Maple Park, IL they finish cattle and raise crops. This farm can hold over 3,000 head of cattle along with 6,500 acres of farmland. The first eye opener was realizing that cattle do not always stay at the farm where they were born. Cattle typically move from their “birth farm” to a “finishing farm.” A finishing farm is where cattle spend their last 165 to 170 days before slaughter. On the finishing farm, the cattle can either be: grain-finished, grass-finished with additional labeling of naturally raised or certified organic. The titles are self-explanatory except naturally raised means never received antibiotics or growth hormones. While organic cattle eat 100% organic feed and never receive antibiotics or growth hormones.
The Martz/Larson farm is a CAFO facility. The title sounds scary, but basically it is a farm that contains the animals in a housing unit and the feed is delivered to the animals, as opposed to grazing in a field. Contrary to the scare tactics by the food extremists, this CAFO farm was mighty nice in my book. The cows had plenty of room to stand, lay down, access to fresh water and freshly mixed feed. They were not standing in their waste and only cattle were in the sheds. Mike Martz, farm partner, explained the shed protects the animals from the elements and wild animals. This particular farm has all four sides open so the wind can travel through the several sheds and is positioned at the right direction to capture the smallest of breezes and shade from the rising sun. During the cold months shades are lowered to protect the cows from the cold, snow and ice. Since cattle are docile, slow moving animals, they need protection from coyotes or wolves. These wild animals can decimate a herd in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, Mike Martz spoke from experience.
The Larson/Martz Farm takes their environmental stewardship serious. A few examples include installing concrete barriers on the pens closest to the road. This protects the road and surrounding area from the occasional manure run off. Speaking of manure, I did not realize this waste product was so valuable. This farm has the cows stand on a rubber surface that allows the waste to fall to the basement of each shed. The manure is augured out to a truck and then based on certain EPA standards is spread across the field as fertilizer for crops. Who knew? This past weekend at a truck stop in Wisconsin I saw they were selling a large bag of cow manure for $12.95. Looks like this waste product has a strong market after all!
The second portion of the tour was seeing Martz/Larson farm harvest field corn. It was a bit early but they were kind enough to show us the process. Typically farms harvest when it drops to 28% moisture content and this day it was at 33%. I strapped on my big girl pants and hopped into the HUGE green combine – all John Deere. It was the most amazing experience to see the large stalks of corn quickly chopped down. The corn quickly piled up behind my seat. The stalks were turbo chopped and spread across the field behind us. After a few passes, the corn was emptied into a secondary cart, and ultimately driven to the farm by semi trucks.
Five Take Aways
- Cattle are social animals with a pack mentality. Bulling does exist in the cattle world.
- Cattle have the dreaded “back fat.” The only difference is humans can work it off with exercise. For cattle they are doomed due to genetics. Cattle farmers work to reduce this through breeding and complete nutrition.
- Cattle farms use ultrasound technology just like dairy farms. A cattle farm uses this technology to determine the best time to take to market.
- At the packing facility cattle are tested to ensure the meat is antibiotic free.
- Ear tags are not cattle jewelry instead used to keep track of the animal’s health, history and feed.
Des Plaines, Illinois
Sharon is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits several Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms, including five things they found most interesting. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers. Read more from Sharon on her blog, Mayor of Crazyville.