3 THINGS YOU AND A COW HAVE IN COMMON

Cows are some majestic creatures. Weighing over 1,000 pounds, they aren’t close to being the same as a human. However, we do share some similar traits with cows!

bestfriend1. Cows miss their best friend.

In dairy herds, cows typically have their best friend. These two cows are just what you think best friends would be. They hang out, assist each other in birth if necessary, and even like to stand next to each other in the barn while being milked! However, when they are apart, they miss their best friend and become stressed. It is weird to think, but cows do have best friends and miss them while apart, just like we humans do!

silly2. Cows like to have fun and be silly!

Cows seem to always be silly and have some fun while around the farm. They like to stick their tongues out, throw their head, and play with each other in the pasture! Just like you might want to run around and have some fun, cows enjoy having their free time and fun!

 

diverse3. Cows are diverse!

Just like humans, cows are very diverse. There are numerous different breeds of cows, both in dairy and beef varieties. These cows range in size and color. Some cows are white, red, black, and a mix of everything. While they all have their certain size and color, they either are raised for milk or beef purposes.  Fun Fact: Chocolate milk does NOT come from red and white dairy cows!

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Dakota Cowger
Illinois State University

WHY MY FAMILY FARM IS BIG BUT NOT A FACTORY FARM

What is a factory farm? Is it a 5,000-acre grain farm supporting 3 families? Is it a 40 head dairy cattle operated by a dad his son? Is it a poultry farm operated by a family of five who contract out through a corporation who will sell the chicken in the store?

The term “factory farm” seems to have originated from the non-agriculture public and media about large farms in today’s agriculture industry. The only issue is that there is no real definition of a factory farm. A factory farm in some eyes are having over 20 animals in a herd, while others see it as large rows of buildings housing thousands and thousands of livestock.

But is there such a thing as a factory farm?

img_9035Many of the large farms seen from the flatlands of the Midwest to the hills of Texas are large FAMILY farms. Does this make them a factory farm? No. There are plenty of large farms in the country that might house more than 1,000 pigs, to help provide for two or three families.

Is that a factory farm? Somewhere with multiple families and generations raising livestock to help make ends meet? No. That is families trying to make ends meet. With lower margins than in years previous, families have to increase their farm size to help put food on the table.

What about my family? We farm 40 miles south of Downtown Chicago in one of the first farm towns south of the suburbs. We farm around 3000 acres of grain crop and milk around 75 dairy cows. To put an acre in perspective, one acre equals about the size of one football field.

Does that sound like a large farm to you? By some standards, it definitely is. However, let’s break down the numbers.

Three families are provided for on this farm. My family, along with my grandparents and uncle’s family all depend on the farm for income.

img_9036We all depend on the farm for food to be on the table.

We depend on the farm to pay for fuel to get the kids to soccer practice.

We depend on the farm to keep the lights on to study for the next big test in school.

We depend on the farm to keep life moving, just like everyone else relies on their job and income to pay the bills.

Does that make our farm a factory farm? I don’t think so. Just like every other family, we work hard to make money and provide for the family. We go past the bar, with every single member being active on the farm and helping with whatever that could be. Whether its running someone to a tractor, or helping out with feeding calves, the entire family helps out when needed on the farm.

So is that large farm you see on the side of the road a factory farm? No, it probably isn’t, because it is probably a family or two working hard to make ends meet.

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Dakota Cowger
Illinois State University

FIVE FARM WOMEN TO WATCH

Move out of the way gentleman. Here come the ladies in agriculture. These five farm women are making waves in the “agvocation” of agriculture by sharing their personal experiences and daily lives with others on social media. Between Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, these ladies in ag are helping tell their story about what farm life is like as mothers, wives, managers, farmers, and agvocates.

On Instagram you can check out two women from very different aspects of farming. Neither one is better than the other but both have beautiful photos that immediately capture your interest, making you wander… “Is it really that beautiful?”

9-29-16kristin-instagramKristin Reese – @localfarmmom

Kristin Reese is a young mom of two who lives on a farm in Ohio where her and her husband raise and show sheep. However, they also raise other livestock and grain. Through posts about her life she explains production agriculture in easy-to-understand terms that help those who don’t have a farm background understand. You can check out more of how Kristin promotes and discusses ag on her Instagram account localfarmmom.

9-29-16joneve-instagramJoneve Murphy – @farmersroots

Offering an alternative approach to ag, farmersroots Instagram Joneve Murphy is an organic farmer who travels the world capturing organic food production through a lens that helps tell a story with magnificent photos. Her latest adventures in Nicaragua offer an insight into agriculture many aren’t able to experience.

While Instagram provides a beautiful backdrop to conversations about ag, Twitter is where those conversations can get started and grow.

9-29-16twitter-micheleMichele Payn-Knoper -@mpaynspeaker

Twitter Ag Queen Michele Payn-Knoper is the creator of the popular hash tag #agchat. Michele encourages everyone in the industry to share their story, and offers opportunities for people of all backgrounds to come together and to discuss ag topics ranging from nutrition to organic farming in #agchats. This plays a huge part in helping connect the gap between producer and consumer.

The other platform women use is Facebook — with more than one billion people using Facebook, women agvocates are able to help teach moms and women across the world about what their farm life is like.

9-29-16dairy-carrieDairy Carrie – @DairyCarrie

In 2011, Dairy Carrie started sharing her journey of what life was like on her dairy farm in Wisconsin with her husband and their 100 dairy cows. Carrie shares on her Facebook page and website about everything dairy but also about ag in general. She says her “brain to mouth filter is the smallest known to mankind,” but this plays to her advantage as her honesty helps give the transparency needed in today’s agricultural production.

9-29-16the-farmers-wifeThe Farmer’s Wifee – @StaufferDairy

The second woman to watch on Facebook is The Farmer’s Wifee. Krista is a mom and first-generation dairy farmer with her husband in Washington with three kids and 150 dairy cows.  She writes her own blog about daily life, shares facts about her industry, and shares articles that offer insight and knowledge for a range of ag topics for moms everywhere.

These women know how to make an impact with words. Thanks to them, many people are being educated while the women agvocate using daily life experiences. Different backgrounds, different parts of the ag industry, but all helpful in making a difference.

maxley_jaylynnJaylynn Maxley
University of Illinois

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: FARM TOUR

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Join Illinois Farm Families they show Chicago moms how food gets to their table by visiting two different poultry farms in Illinois – all from the comfort of your couch! At 9AM tomorrow morning, tune into to IFF’s Facebook page and follow along. Make sure to “Like” their page so you can get a notification once they go live.

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: ILLINOIS STATE FAIR

IMG_8861This past Tuesday (August 16) was Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair. If you’re familiar with the history of the fair, you’ll know the fair’s primary purpose was for agriculture. People brought their animals from across the state and to compete in showing. For instance, the competition would decide which dairy cow had the best features and characteristic of the ideal dairy cow that would best carry on the breed. These competitions still exist today and have varying criteria based on the category/animal.

Since then, the Illinois State Fair has evolved to include a non-farming audience with different games, rides, concerts and foods. While no one is discounting the glory of a funnel cake, Ag Day was created to give a spotlight to the fair’s original intention. This year, IL Corn joined other agriculture organizations, farming families, and government leaders to showcase the industry while also engaging the non-farming community to learn about issues agriculture faces today.

Among the events:

 

 

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    Government officials including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and U.S. Congressman for Illinois Cheri Bustos showed their support by meeting with industry leaders.

 

 

 

  • IMG_8851Illinois FFA members interacted with government and industry officials to talk shop as they learn more to become our nation’s next agriculture leaders.

 

 

Check out more from our Facebook, where we livestreamed an interview with Illinois FFA members and heard from IL Corn leaders.

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: MEET PHIL

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Phil Borgic is the owner of Borgic Farms Inc., located in Illinois. The 6,200-sow farm staff focuses on properly caring for their pigs and their employees. Phil sat down with the #RealPigFarming team to tell us a little bit more about himself and his family’s farm.

Read the interview here.

TAKING CARE OF PIGS ON FARMS

[Originally posted here]

8-4-16caring-for-our-pigsFarmers are eager to explain how pigs are raised and cared for. Few people have firsthand knowledge of what modern pig farming looks like. Now more than ever, we have access to many tools and resources to better care for our animals and meet consumer demand. These advancements have helped make the U.S. pork supply safer and more nutritious than at any time in our nation’s history. No matter the farm, the basic tenet of animal agriculture is the same: Good animal care is imperative to produce healthy food for consumers. For pig farmers, ensuring the well-being of animals is about more than taking care of business. It is part of America’s agricultural heritage. We are intent on preserving — and building upon — that legacy.

You can discover more about how pigs are treated and the regulations surrounding pig farming here.

ANIMAL WELFARE

In the past few years, many issues have popped up about animal welfare.  These issues range from quality of life, the antibiotics used to treat livestock, and environmental concerns from factory farm animal waste.

The first thing I want to say is stop believing everything you read from large animal activist groups.  They don’t always have the facts right.  It’s just like in school when your teachers told you to not use Wikipedia as a “credible source” for writing a paper.  I’m not saying that they are always incorrect, but the very fact that they are spreading false information is a major concern in supporting any claim they make.

I have seen many videos distorting the truth about factory farms.  There was one video that used a drone to fly over a factory farm where the farm was shown disposing of animal excrement by spraying it carelessly into the air.  When I first watched this, being the gullible, I was shocked by their lack of concern.  However, after having read many stories where actual farmers expose the false information being fed into media—I was highly skeptical of this video.

7-19-161468927292587_imageDid you know that large farms are required by law to create Nutrient Management Plans? Basically, these plans describe how much manure is produced, how it will be stored, and where it will end up.  In the case of this video, the factory farm disposed of their waste by having vents in the floor where animal excretions drop through and are flooded into a body of water.  After a certain amount of time, this waste breaks down in the water and is transported to other farms where it can be sprayed over crops as fertilizer. Manure has been used for centuries to fertilize soil and provides a lot of essential nutrients to crops.  While there are alternative fertilizer choices to manure that are beneficial and more cost efficient, still many farms are utilizing manure as a form of soil fertilizer.

Now let’s talk about antibiotics.  When an animal gets sick, farmers carefully evaluate when they should use medicine to treat their animals. All antibiotics must go through rigorous government inspection before being approved for use in livestock. The medicine has to be approved in three areas; safety of the animal, environment, and the consumers.  After approval, antibiotics are annually re-evaluated and only stay on the market if they are still safe.  Specifically in the case of dairy cows, farmers separate cattle with illnesses from the cattle that are producing milk for purchase.  Then, as the cattle that are treated with antibiotics, they remain separate until the medication passes from their system before returning to be milked for production.  The separation period is also the same for livestock bred for meat.  Farmers diligently make sure to take care with using antibiotic treatment and ensure that their products are not at all contaminated by the former medication when they hit market.

Here’s another thought.  Why would a person become a full-time farmer if they didn’t love animals in the first place? Think about your job. After you finish school, it’s what consumes a majority of your life so it makes sense to work in what you love.  More than that, agriculture is a business that costs.  Taking care of even a dog, say for example, is expensive.  How much more than does it cost to take care of hundreds of cattle or pigs?  I’d like to end this by encouraging you to really dig deep when evaluating your standpoint regarding animal treatment.  Farmers are not out to get you, because they also eat the food you eat.

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Deidra Sonnemaker
Communications Intern
IL Corn

AG CAREER PROFILES: WHAT DOES AN AGRIBUSINESS CONTROLLER DO?

Mary Mackinson Faber is the 5th generation involved in her family’s farm near Pontiac, Illinois. She grew up on her family’s grain and dairy operations located about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. Currently, she is employed with Graymont Cooperative as the Controller, and she manages her family farm’s social media presence online. She graduated from Illinois State with a B.S. in Agribusiness and an MBA. She is married to Jesse Faber, Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor at Pontiac Township High School. They have two kids, Ava and Eli.

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DAKOTA: What made you decide to work in an agribusiness?

MARY: Graduating from high school, I did not know what I wanted to “be when I grew up.”  I took one area that I was and still am incredible passionate about, agriculture and another idea that I really enjoyed, business and decided to major in Agriculture Business at Illinois State University.

DAKOTA:  What is your day to day role in your job?

agribusiness_controllerMARY: I am the Controller for Graymont Cooperative Association a local agriculture cooperative that is a grain storage facility, agronomy input supplier, feed mill and internet provider. My job responsibilities include human resources, customer credit and collections, and accounts payable. I oversee the sale and purchase of common and preferred stock and patronage pay-out and redemption. I take great pride in the reconciliation and presentation of department and company-wide monthly and fiscal year-end financial statements. In addition to making sure that all of the numbers balance, I enjoy serving and engaging with the local farmers. I am extremely proud to work for a company that has been owned by hard-working farm families for more than one hundred years.

DAKOTA: Explain your role on your family’s dairy farm.

MARY: I am the 5th generation to grow up on Mackinson Dairy Farm.  Mackinson Dairy is a dairy and grain farm located north of Pontiac, Illinois or about 100 miles south of Chicago on Interstate 55.  Mackinson Dairy Farm is home to around 165 milking cows and over 150 head of heifer and calves in addition to roughly 2,000 acres of cropland where we grow corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa.  Growing up, while I loved the cows and agriculture, I knew I was not cut out to be on the farm every day.  As I entered college, I started to realize the disconnect between consumer and farmer and soon discovered my passion for advocacy.  I have been trying to bridge the disconnect ever since but truly became active advocating on social media after I became a Mom.  Today, I am responsible for managing the farm’s social media presence.

7-7-16mary1DAKOTA: To someone outside of the agriculture industry, why should they join in on the careers involved in agriculture?

MARY: As more agriculturists start to tell their amazing stories, people will see agriculture is more than just plows, cows, and sows. The image of what an agriculture career looks like needs to be updated. The image should include the farmer, but also a nutritionist, food scientist, machinist, mechanical engineer and social media expert. Agriculture needs to embrace the diverse opportunities available and build enthusiasm for these types of careers. My husband and I are fortunate to have amazing jobs in the agriculture sector, and it is a wonderful industry for raising a family.

You can find Mary on her blog at MackinsonDairy.com, and their Facebook at facebook.com/MackinsonDairyFarm

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Dakota Cowger
Communications Intern
IL Corn

RAISING FAMILIES, FOOD AND AWARENESS

[Reposted from Illinois Farm Families Blog. Find the original here.]

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.

3-29-16oneWe 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?

3-29-16twoPeople 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?

3-29-16threeMichael 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.

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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?  

3-29-16fiveI 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.3-29-16six

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