A Tale of Two Farms

A cow with her calf at the Adams Farm
A cow with her calf at the Adams Farm

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 was 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.

Sara talks to a group of City Moms. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.
Sara Prescott talks with a group of City Moms. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.

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 have 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.

Alan Adams speaks to us in his family barn. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.
Alan Adams speaks to us in his family barn. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.

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. They use two bulls to breed their cows, and to breed their heifers (first time mothers-to-be), 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 also have many things 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.

You can find out more about the Adams Farm here: Meet the Farmers: Alan and Joann Adams

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

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Out on the Adams Farm. Photo Courtesy of Illinois Farm Bureau.

Transportation, lunch, and childcare expenses were provided by the Illinois Farm Families and the Agricultural Support Association. No other compensation was received for the writing of this post.


#GrowYourFood, and then #ThankaFarmer

Do you #growyourfood? It seems to be one of the hashtags of the summer on Instagram, in my feed at least. And I think this is a very good thing for a number of reasons. For one thing, I have never bought a grocery store tomato that tastes as good as my uncle’s homegrown tomatoes. His kohlrabi tastes even better than the kohlrabi I recently bought at a farmer’s market. And the satisfaction of growing your own food is also worth mentioning!

How about my own gardening? Well, let’s just say growing my own food makes me appreciate farmers. Last year, my tomato crop was decimated by tomato-loving squirrels. This year, it looks like I have a bumper crop of tomatoes, and they are still ripening on the vine. Hopefully those pesky squirrels won’t bother them this time.

Gardening can be time consuming, too. I just went outside to capture a photo of my ripening tomatoes, and all of a sudden an hour had passed with weeding, pruning, and watering. Can you imagine tending acres and acres of garden? Even with modern agricultural technology, it’s still a full-time job! Farmers need to be constantly vigilant, on the watch for insects, weeds, and disease. Not only that, but the weather is unpredictable. Many farms in Illinois had a very soggy summer from all the rain we had in June.

harvest screenshot
In this photo, we are looking at the health of a corn stalk.

Tending your own garden can help you realize what hard work producing food really is! While I love growing my own tomatoes and peppers, I know I would never be able to produce enough food for my family to eat. I don’t have much land available or the expertise. Did you know that most farmers major in agriculture in college? All of the information I’ve learned in the past two years as a Field Mom is just the tip of the iceberg! As a teacher, I need to go to classes and workshops for professional development; did you know that farmers are required to receive training on pesticide application? They must renew their certification every three years! Home gardeners like myself don’t need any training to go buy pesticides at Home Depot! (I choose not to use pesticides, however, since my vegetable garden is very close to my pollinator garden. I don’t want to accidentally kill any beneficial insects!)

green pepper
My one and only bell pepper

This year, I accidentally planted my tomatoes on the west side of my raised garden bed. While my tomatoes are growing quite well, the huge plants have been shading my poor pepper plants. I only have one bell pepper, and so far have only grown three jalapeno peppers, when normally I have too many to eat! I need to make a better plan for next summer’s garden. Farmers also spend the winter planning and preparing for the next growing season, and as you can imagine, their planning is much more intense than mine. On our farm tours, some of the farm wives told us how much their farmer husbands love poring over seed catalogs!

Fortunately, my basil plant has been flourishing. Don’t give me credit; basil is very easy to grow!

basil plant

With my tomatoes and basil, I can make this very easy and delicious Caprese Salad. Simply layer tomato slices with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It tastes as good as it looks!

Caprese Salad

Even though I love eating what I grow, I know I would get sick of tomatoes before long. I’m so thankful for all the farmers that provide fresh produce for us to eat!

Do you grow your own food? What plants have you had the most success (or least success) in growing? Visit watchusgrow.org for more information on farming!

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