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

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Mar 31 2016

Illinois Beef Farms

When I hear the words beef cattle, I picture ranches in Texas. As part of the City Moms program, I had the opportunity to visit the Adam’s beef farm in Sandwich, IL.  From this tour, I learned about cattle breeding and animal care.

First, the Adam’s beef cattle are crossed between two breeds, the Angus and Simmental. These two breeds produce the best calves in Alan's opinion. Angus are known for their carcass quality and Simmental for their superior milk production. The breeding season starts in late June. The Adam’s family uses two Angus bulls that are turned in with the cows for 60 days and pulled out in late August. The calves are born in early spring. In the spring, the mother cows and calves reap the benefits of the high quality pasture grass. The pasture is divided into nine areas. Every week the cattle are rotated between the pastures to control the grazing of the cow. The mothers and calves spend time grazing together on the pastures. The heifers, or first time mothers, are bred using artificial insemination with bulls that produce low birth weight calves. This is to prevent problems in the delivery of the calves. After 3 months, the Adam’s family begins the early weaning process. The mother cows train the calves in how to eat at the feed trough. The calves can then transition easily to the farm feed lots. When the calves are separated from their mother, they are in the pen right next to their mother. This is the lowest stress situation for mother and baby. The cows continue to graze in the pastures until late winter. Afterwards, they remain indoors until they have a calf and pasture is ready in early spring. 

The Adam’s family, like the majority of farmers, provide compassionate animal care. They have taken classes and are Beef Quality Assurance Certified to administer vaccines to their animals. Alan Adams stated that their three injections of vaccinations inoculate their cattle from fifteen diseases. Many diseases, such as pinkeye, are rarely seen and antibiotic usage is greatly reduced thanks to the development of vaccines. When antibiotics are warranted, they are used as prescribed by the vet. On the Adam’s farm, calves are implanted with hormones at 3 months and at 6 or 7 months. The hormones influence the cow’s pituitary gland to increase the growth rate of lean beef production of fat, as opposed to fat production. Also, it helps the animal’s body use their feed the most efficiently. The Adam’s family emphasized that we consume foods that naturally produce these hormones in far greater quantities. Why would they consume their own beef that had the hormone plants if it was unsafe? There is no scientific evidence showing safety concerns with hormone implants. 

Furthermore, just as farmers provide compassionate care and low stress environments to their animals, the meat packing plants provide a calm environment and humane death. One half of all plants in North America use equipment and the five key measure audit system (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point type audit) designed by Temple Grandin, a woman with autism and an expert on animal behavior. Many large plants are audited, using Grandin’s standards, by restaurant chains. Temple believes that providing a calm stress free environment at the meat packing plant is just as important as providing a quick, painless death. Animals have a greater fear level and lower pain threshold compared to people. 

When I hear the words beef cattle, I now picture the Adam’s farm. I learned about cattle breeding and compassionate animal care. Thanks again to the family and the City Moms program for this informative and enjoyable opportunity. 

Related posts:
I Learned a Thing or Two Today About the Beef I Shop For

I Visited a Beef Farm and Still Wanted to Eat Steak
Food Blogger Visits Local Farm


Sarah Decker
Grayslake, IL

Sarah is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 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. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

Dec 29 2015

Knowledge is Power: Farm Tour Recap

The Illinois Farm Families 'City Moms' went on the last of this season's farm tours in October. Despite my increased awareness of the extensive winter work that continues behind the scenes, every year, on every farm; from my perspective as a city mom, we ended the season appropriately, with a harvest tour.

Invited to complete our season with the opportunity to ride in the combine and the grain wagon, this was an exciting and somewhat celebratory tour. I am sad to see the season come to an end. We have met so many amazing Illinois farm families. I've had such a good time and learned so much on each tour, much more than I've yet been able to integrate completely into my food purchasing, preparing and serving of meals to my family.

The Larson Farm

farmer meets city momOur last tour was of the the Larson Farm in Maple Park, IL. The Larson family farm produces beef and grain. Three generations participate in farming on the Larson farm. Mike and Lynn Martz partnered with Lynn's parents in 1979. Their son Justin and his wife joined them in 2008. Several employees contribute to farm operations and are an integral part of the farm. With several generations represented in the family and inter-generational employees on the farm there is a strong sense of extended family and community overall at the Larson farm.

The crop production side of their farm is managed by Lynn and includes corn, soybeans and wheat grown on 6,350 acres of land. They also raise and finish beef cattle, Mike's domain. They have the capacity to house up to 3,500 head of cattle and finish 7,000 head each year. These cattle are delivered via semi-truck to the Larson feed lot where upon arrival, they are allowed ample time to rest and recover from the stress of travel. The feed lot houses and cares for the animals of other farmers and finishes them for the market.

Animal Well Being

Every animal is observed on a daily basis at the Larson farm. Technology contributes to the assessment of each animal's well being and development. Ultra-sound technology is used in determining fat content, marbling and readiness for the market. Facilities for the cattle on the Larson farm were designed by the well known consultant to the livestock industry, Temple Grandin.

Antibiotics are only used on sick animals and following any antibiotic treatment, there is a required withdrawal period before that animal can be taken to market. There is oversight and inspection by government regulators and ample testing required to insure that there are no residual antibiotics in the meat. 

Mike Martz also presented information regarding the use of hormones in beef production. Hormones naturally occur in cattle (and other organisms). Any additional hormones are given to assist an animal in utilizing their feed to promote growth. A farmer may choose to use additional hormones to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of raising cattle. Useful comparison information regarding hormones to consider includes the fact that a 3 oz. cut of treated beef contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen compared to 1.3 nanograms in a 3 oz. cut of untreated beef (that's a .6 nanogram difference), a potato contains 225 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of peas contains 340 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of cabbage contains 2,000 nanograms and one birth control pill contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. (Source below.)

For the source and more information regarding the specific amounts of naturally occurring hormones, please read this article from the University of Nebraska.

Back to the Farm

There is an amazing amount of work to be done and managed on the Larson farm. Our visit coincided with the fall corn harvest. We rode on the combine on the 27th day of consecutive 15 hour work days for those driving the equipment. Despite the timing, we were met with enthusiastic and talkative field guides as we watched the harvesting of the corn from the combine cab.

To get your own glimpse into work and life on the Larson farm, watch this video.

So Much to Learn

We have been presented with so much information and have had the opportunity to have an inside look at farming on each and every farm tour that it is hard to readily absorb and process it all. Visiting the Larson family farm was no exception and we were once again treated with warm hospitality and straight forward honest answers to every question.

For me the big picture takeaways from the Illinois Farm Family 'City Moms' tours were:

  • Illinois Farmers are dedicated hardworking people with the best interests of their land, their animals and their consumers at heart. 
  • They offer high quality products to consumers. 
  • They care. 
  • They are regulated. 
  • They respond to the market.
  • They want consumers to be healthy, informed and to have choices in their food purchases.

The Illinois farmers we met this season are committed to informing consumers about farm production. They have been more than generous in sharing their time, knowledge and their farms with us.

Whether it is through a program like the one offered by Illinois Farm Families, by visiting your local farmers market or just asking questions of the managers of the grocery store where you shop, I urge you to find and get to know the farmers who produce your food. You will increase your knowledge about the food you eat, gain confidence in your purchasing choices and meet amazing people.


Originally posted on Run Ran Fam.

Brookfield, IL

Angie is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits 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.

Dec 03 2015

10 Things I Didn’t Know Before I Toured Farms

As I reflect back on this year in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s City Mom program, I’d like to share just a few of the things that I did not know before I began this program and that have made an impression on me.

  1. mom on a farm tour with sheepHow passionate the farmers are about what they do. It truly is in their blood. They care deeply about their livestock and being good stewards of the land.
  2. How many farms are family farms.  97% of Illinois farms are family farms.
  3. The incredible work ethic that these farmers have and that they are passing it on to their children. It is a beautiful thing to see.
  4. Most of these farmers do not own all their land, they have to rent some of it.
  5. How many variables a farmer is constantly managing: Weeds, pests, temperature, droughts, floods, hail, cost of fuel, soil health, medical care and nutritional needs of livestock, equipment repair, feed cost, seed cost and the list goes on and on.
  6. The enormous amount of technology that is now utilized on the farm. I pads, apps, GPS tracking, field mapping, soil analysis, ultrasound, pinpoint fertilizer applications, measuring harvest yields to name just a few of the ways it is helping the farmer be more efficient. 
  7. The variety of careers available in the agriculture industry.
  8. The amount of time and research that goes into GMOs, 13 years on average. More than 75 different studies are performed on each new biotech product to ensure it is safe for people, animals and the environment before it comes to market.
  9. How confused we, as consumers, can be by the clever labeling and marketing of products in the grocery store.
  10. What a wonderful resource Illinois Farm Families website is for consumers to get the answers they need to their questions and concerns about the food they eat and the farming practices used today. 

Anita Mann
Naperville, IL

Anita 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.

Nov 30 2015

A City Mom's Visit to a Working Family Farm

On a beautiful fall day, I visited Larson Farms, a beef and grain family farm, described by farmer Mike Martz as a hotel for cows.  They run a feedlot farm, which is just one part of the beef life-cycle, and the last farm the cows live at before heading to the packing plant.  This large farm can house up to 3,500 cattle, and the farmers’ job is to house, feed, take care of, and ultimately prepare for sale the cattle.  

chicago mom tours farmCows are delivered to their farm, where they are immediately vaccinated, as it is important to be proactive in regards to all of the cows’ health.  The Martz family makes the rounds daily, checking on all of the cows, and know exactly what to look for when the cows are sick.  Those cows are then separated from the herd to the sick barn where they are checked over more thoroughly, weighed, and given antibiotics if needed.  The FDA has guidelines regarding how many days an animal needs to be antibiotic free before going to harvest.  The Larson farm keeps the cows 10 days beyond that withdrawal period.  It is not worth the risk of being put on a watch list, where your farm would remain for 2 years.  

As the family manages the farm, they feed the cows approximately 33 lbs. of feed per cow per day!  As the farm is like a hotel, the family gets paid a daily charge per cow per day, plus for the food, which is a grain based diet, the cow eats.  Although the majority of cows are not the family’s, often Mike Martz, who heads the beef operation at the farm, provides consultation to the owners about who to sell the cattle to, which usually is a sale barn or directly to a few different packing plants.

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to see a working farm and learn more about beef farming in Illinois.  Many thanks to Larson Farms for welcoming the City Moms to their farm. 

Chicago, IL

Nicole is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits 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.


Nov 23 2015

Local farmers taught me how to pick the best steak at the store

I was never really sure what to buy at the supermarket to make sure I was bringing home the best beef to my family. The kind Martz family has taught me that, if you can, always select certified angus beef.

USDA beef grading is voluntary and paid for by the meat packers, and then, ultimately, the consumer. The grading sets the standard for how flavorful, juicy, and tender the meat is.

  • farmer steakPrime has the most marbling in the meat and that is what will give you the tender, flavorful, juicy meat you want. It is sold to specialty supermarkets and meat markets. It is also sold to fine hotels and restaurants.
  • Choice cuts tend to have a litlle less marbling. Choice is the most widely available grade in the market.
  • Select has the least amount of marbling, making it leaner and a little less juicy and flavorful than the other grades.

The shocking surprise to me was learning that marbling (the small streaks of fat in the muscle tissue that gives it the flavor and tenderness we all enjoy) is actually the monounsaturated fat that is good for us! Who would of imagined that? The thicker fat outside the muscle is the bad (saturated) fat that we should cut away.

The generous Martz family made a barbecue beef brisket for us for lunch that was delish. You can find the recipe on their website.

Here's to Bountiful Delicious Beef Dinners this season and beyond! Thank you Larson Farms for making me an educated consumer.


Carol Cohen
Algonquin, IL

Carol is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits 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.

Nov 10 2015

Technology on the Farm: What's new? What's better?

Let's Talk Analytics!


No, really, let's talk data sets and analytical analysis.  

I shared about agricultural technology when I went on the Spring Planting Tour, and I'm going to share a bit more about technology in this post as well...but, also data sets.  

I know - thrilling!

Also, really?  Farming. Agriculture. Data Sets??  Yes!

I have to qualify here, my husband is a data scientist.  Our dinner table conversations revolve around data use and analytics and dash boards and plot graphs and all that jazz.  I find this particularly interesting from a PR and marketing standpoint.  How can I take that data and market growth or positive output with what I do?  

But, farming and THAT?  

Like I've shared in the past, my mind is being blown open with the technological advances that farmers are using to help better run their operations. And, where my mind opened a bit more on this past trip to Larson Farms, a feed lot (or "Hotel") in Maple Park where they are in charge of the daily care of cattle and grain farm, was when Linda (of Larson Farms) said "This is a Family Farm, it's a business."  It's a business - of course it is and also, there's nothing wrong with that.  I know that I can attest that when I think of farming and business in the same sentence my visual is often warehouse like farming where little to no care is being contributed to the animals and it's about "more" - more animals, more meat, for more profits..and however that needs to be accomplished. That's not the case, though.  And, it has not been the case on any of the tours that I've gone on this year with the Illinois Farm Families.   It definitely was not the case at Larson Farms.

Let's Talk Tech, ... first


cattle ultrasoundLarson Farms has utilized Temple Gradin's designs for their ultrasound barn.  I knew of Temple Grandin from my subscription to Mother Earth News Magazine as she was a speaker at one of their tours.  I note this only to illustrate that Mother Earth News isn't all that into animal cruelty and harming the earth....so, if a farmer is implementing the barn designs of a noted professor of animal science who is known for her stance on animal welfare, then I kind of think that this farm (and many others) care about the livelihood of their animals

What the ultrasound allows Larson Farms to do is determine back fat and marbling in their cattle. The genetics of the animal (as in what breed of cattle it is) determines the meat grade cut.  Prime is top, then Choice, then Select. Since Larson Farms is a cattle feed lot, the middle point of the beef cycle, individualized care of the cattle is what's being stressed, and technology allows that to happen because everything is computerized.  From what the cattle are fed, when and how much, to checking the cattle for marbling prior to harvest via the ultrasound.  This ensures that nothing is wasted, whether it be feed or resources...or manure.  Larson Farms is a self contained farm.  Their barn has an 8 foot basement where manure is collected and then used on their grain crops.  The application of manure on the crops allows for less chemical applications.

Let's Talk Data Sets  


On the grain side of Larson Farms, trucks of corn are brought in from the fields where the corn is tested for moister (prior to being dried) and the truck load is weighed to determine how much product is being brought in.  

About 25% of what is being harvested is being used on the feed lot. Everything else is being sent to an ethanol plant to ship overseas.

Everything that is happening on this farm is not only computerized, but also being filtered into software to produce data sets so that variances can be managed and to determine what needs to be done the following year.  Not only is data being generated and analyzed, but its findings are being applied on the farm to make sure that cost-benefit analysis is utilized to drive the family business, which is farming  

What's new, what's better?


This was the very first time that I was told "if you have an idea, please let us know because we may utilize it here."  The fresh eyes, people who are seeing the farm from a different perspective, we were being encouraged to contribute in an effort to help them.  Not only were we encouraged to ask any questions while there, but to be told that our input was encouraged?  That was fascinating to me. 

I heard on this tour that "fear trumps science", and this has been true in my case.  Being someone who works in marketing I know how words can be used to sell things, like food.  What I have learned over and over again on these tours is that farmers want to answer my questions regarding what they do.  They are transparent.  There is nothing to hide.  They do the best to produce what we consume because they, too, are consuming it.  Advances in agricultural technology allows for a more streamlined approach so that this can be achieved, better.


Originally posted on Educational Anarchy.

Frankfort, IL

Stephanie is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits 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.

Nov 03 2015

Farm Tour Recap: Got Milk?

As a cheese maker, a mom, a consumer and a 2015 Illinois Farm Family City Mom, I was delighted to be invited to tour the Dean Foods and one of their suppliers, Lindale Holesteins’, a local, family owned Dairy Farm.

The Lindale Farm is located about an hour and a half from my home outside Chicago.  It is amazing how quickly city life and strip malls are replaced by rolling fields and livestock.  The farm is beautiful and looks just like you wish all farms would look.  There is no sign of factory farming here.  The animals are in open air pens with plenty of room to move around and bedding deep enough to lose little boy blue.  The animals are let out to pasture twice a day, and they looked pretty content cozying up to each other.  Children and dogs are running around and most of the family is involved in the operation.  There is also a veterinarian on staff that manages the feed and health of the animals.

The actual milking takes place twice a day and it takes 3 1/2 hours each time.  That is 7 hours a day, 365 days a year.  What a responsibility!  Although they have state of the art milking equipment, it is still a hands on operation.  The cows are led into the milking parlour.  Their udders are cleaned by hand and they are then hooked up to the pump.  Once the flow subsides, the pump automatically disconnects from the udders and the cows are sent back out of the parlour. The milk is stored in tanks and never touches human hands or the air.  Once it gets to Dean’s, it will be pasteurized.

This visit to a family owned dairy farm was wonderful.  The animals are treated well and the family takes pride in providing our community clean, safe milk.


Originally posted on Mama Grows.

Jill Niewoehner
Oak Park, IL

Jill 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.

Oct 15 2015

A City Mom's Day on the Farm

Gracious and generous hosts, Linda and Dale Drendel welcomed the Illinois Farm Family 'City Moms' to their farm to share a bit of their extensive dairy farming knowledge with us. With 40 years of dairy farming experience, they have more to share than we could possibly absorb in our afternoon visit. Linda talked about their champion Holstein cows and the meticulous care given to their animals. She is passionate about dairy farming and the well being of the cows.

The Holsteins on the Drendel farm are monitored and cared for regularly by veterinarian Brian J. Gerloff. Brian has years of experience with dairy cows. He grew up on a dairy farm and began his vet practice caring for dairy cows in 1985. He has witnessed the number of dairy farms in Northern Illinois decrease substantially since he began his practice.

Brian showed us the feed and described how feed is selected for the best nutrition for the cows. What I remember is that a total mixed ration (TMR) is created to address the nutritional needs of the dairy animals. One of the ingredients is made from the whole corn plant (corn silage), another ingredient is hay. Another fun fact is that cows have four stomachs.

Despite the lovely weather on the day we visited, the cows chose to stay inside. There was an open gate on the side of the barn for them to exit at will, but they remained in the barn. Silly cows.

Seeing the young ones of any species is usually a treat. The calves were all really beautiful, each with their own distinct markings. They were also generally very friendly.

baby calf on the farmBaby mammals are born with the survival instinct to suck. These calves will be fed their mother's colostrum and milk, but long term, they will not be getting their nutrition directly from the cow themselves. A calf will be separated from the cow approximately 6 -8 hours after birth due to safety concerns. The cow can pose a physical danger to the calf by her size and potential for laying on the calf. A calf in open pasture can wander off and get itself into trouble. The separation of the calf from the cow, also allows for better monitoring, by the farmer, of the health of the calf and its food intake.

Each of the 'City Mom' farm tours has been a delight for me. With the opportunity to meet the farm families, each tour has served as a reminder of just how easy it has become for most of us to buy and consume safe, high quality nutrition for our families. I am grateful for the hard work and dedication of the farmers that goes into making such a wide range of healthy food available to the rest of us.

The fun continued discussing the dairy tour on radio. Following the farm tour, I  had the opportunity along with Marla Behrends, from the Midwest Dairy Association, to join radio hosts Rita Frazer and DeLoss Jahnke on R.F.D. Illinois radio to share my experience as a 'City Mom' visiting the Drendel farm. Thanks, Rita and DeLoss, fellow Runza fan, for the opportunity; it was a pleasure talking with you both. 

For a lovely cookbook with great recipes containing dairy, plus a brief introduction to the different breeds of dairy cows, checkout; A Dairy Good Cookbook.


Originally posted on Run Ran Fam.

Angie Runyan
Brookfield, IL

Angie is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits 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.


Sep 21 2015

A Different Kind of Skyline

A different kind of skyline for a lot of us City Moms. Big thanks to the Drendel's for the hospitality!

farm skyline

More from the Dairy Farm Tour coming soon!

Bridget Evanson
Crystal Lake, IL

Bridget 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.

Sep 14 2015

I Visited a Beef Farm and Still Want to Eat Steak

There they were. Hundreds of them, in roomy pens, air moving freely. They milled, they chewed, they lay down and took rests. All getting ready to be beef- which I enjoy on my plate on occasion.

Beef farm tour I had the pleasure of visiting the Larson farm and met four generations of family farmers. Together, they grow corn, soybeans and wheat and 2,500 beef cattle. Lynn, member of Generation 2 and daughter to the 1st Generation, was in charge of the fields while her husband Mike managed took care of the cattle. They work together and separately, making a life for their son and his children. Even with all of that, from what I gathered, the thing they have most of, is each other.

I learned a lot on my tour and there are some facts that I really want to share with you that I find fascinating:

Hormones 

Yes, there is estrogen used in the rearing of these all-male beef cattle. There are 1.9 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef that was treated with growth promoting hormones, compared to 1.3 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of beef from a steer that was not given extra hormones.  To give you some perspective, there are 225 anagrams of estrogen naturally occurring in the baked potato you set next to that steak.

Antibiotics 

Yes, there are antibiotics in the feed on this particular farm. These antibiotics are to prevent cows from developing blood in their stool; these particular antibiotics do not exist in human medicine. Antibiotics are given to treat sick animals that DO exist in human medicine, however, there is a strict regimen followed including a “withdrawal” period, which most farmers will extend out. Because of the withdrawal periods, antibiotic residues do not remain in the meat we eat.

The family cares about the welfare of the animals.

I trust that these farmers are not only providing me with meat that is safe to eat, but that they are being responsible about their overall health management, the environmental conditions an operation like this produces, and the desires of the consumer.

Am I comfortable eating meat? Yes, I was before and I am now. I feel like I know a little more about antibiotics and hormones and I cannot wait for steak night.

Sara McGuire
Chicago, IL

Sara is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 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. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.