YOUNG PERSON IN AG: MAZI WALKER

Mazi can make friends anywhere she goes. On a bus going to Washington D.C. or at a conference for an organization, she loves meeting new people. Don’t talk about sheep too close to her or she will talk your ear off about how much she loves sheep and its industry. Her passion for meeting new people, sheep, and leadership is what makes her a great young person in ag.

  1. What is your ag background?

I am the fourth-generation agriculturists where in the past we farmed corn and soybeans, but know we are only focused on the sheep industry. We currently run about 20 breeding ewes with alternating breeding rams every two years. The lambs will be born between January 1st and March 31st. The lambs that don’t meet show quality will be sold to local consumers and sale barns. The sheep industry has opened many doors for me and is something I am happy to be a part of and teach others about it.

  1. What college do you attend and what is your major?

I am a freshman at Lake Land College in Mattoon, IL in the Agriculture Transfer program. After Lake Land, I will transfer to a four-year university and double major in agriculture business and animal science.

  1. What is your involvement at Lake Land?

I am a Freshman Delegate in the Student Government Association that represents the student body. I am also a part of our Agriculture Transfer Club and the Inaugural Colligate Farm Bureau here on campus.

  1. What were some of your high school experiences/involvement in ag?

I was a part of many organizations including serving on the 2016-2017 state FFA officer team as the Section 13 President. I also served as the District III student director. In 4-H I have been the president of my club for the past 4 years. My senior year I was able to start my own agricultural business, Black Sheep Photography. I traveled to different livestock shows and farms to take photos of livestock that was then used as promotional tools.

  1. What is your dream job?

I really hope to one day open up my own feed mill to supply livestock producers with feed as well as help them with supplements for their animals.

  1. Do you have any mentors?

My main mentor would have to be my mom. She has never relied on anybody, even in terms of a job. She has opened two successful businesses.

  1. Do you remember anything that has really changed in agriculture?

I have seen more and more involvement with the youth in the agriculture industry. Youth are becoming involved earlier in 4-H and learning about where their food comes from. However, there is still a large gap between those children and other children who do not know where their food comes from.

  1. How do you see the agriculture industry changing in the next 5-10 years?

I see technology becoming bigger and better. I also see GMO’s becoming bigger and better. Hopefully with that comes, even more, education about where our food comes from so consumers can be well educated.

  1. Do you have any advice for younger people in agriculture/FFA or thinking about agriculture as a career?

Don’t sell yourself short, even if you don’t come from an agriculture background. Agriculture is getting bigger, never smaller. If you think you can play a part in this industry or have a new idea then go for it.

  1. Have you ever been looked down on because you’re a young woman in the agriculture industry?

Women in the livestock industry/ show industry are supposed to know their place which is usually just along the fence or alongside the show ring and aren’t supposed to do anything. When they do step up they are looked at as bossy or rude when really, they just want the same opportunities as everyone else. I would say that I have experienced this and have learned how to deal with it.

Lacie Butler
Lake Land College

#TBT: FIVE WAYS HAVING LIVESTOCK BRIGHTENS A BAD DAY

[Originally published: November 3, 2014]

Some days when you wake up in the morning and go out to do the chores you never fully know what you are going to find… and if it’s too quiet you start to get suspicious. Raising livestock always keeps you on your toes, but in the end, the animals are always a bright spot on even the worst day.

1. Farmers and Livestock have a mutual love for each other

Hog farmerMany farmers are close to each animal they raise. Every animal is cared for to the farmer’s best ability, and with care there is love. Whenever I have to hop over the fence to get a trough for the hogs, I never get out without getting a rub on my legs from each hog, and then I normally end up scratching their backs and watch them do a little dance because they like it.

2girl hugging cow. A Built-in Friend on the Farm

Whether you own a dog, horse, duck, cat, or cow you can always count on having a friend on the farm. If you’re lucky you’ll have a friend from each animal on the farm! My brother has 3 calves and whenever he goes out to feed them he will get in the pen and play tag with them for a little bit, and they will all run around in the pen together and get a good laugh out of it (as well as a little winded).

3. They Come Running to Greet You – or just to Eat

cows eating at feederWhen you notice the hay bale getting low for the cows out in the pasture every farmer knows to hop on the tractor and get another one for them before they finish it or else they will be chasing cows all over the county! When my dad and I take a bale out to the cows, and they hear the tractor coming up the hill you see all of the cows migrate over to the feeder and start calling for the little calves to come over because supper is ready. The cows appreciate all the time and work my family did to get them these hay bales so that they are well fed.

4. Always a Life Lesson

litter of pigs with momSometimes when you’re out on the farm taking attendance of your livestock you notice that one may not be present, and if so, a search party (the whole family) gets called to help find the missing animal. This normally happens on my farm when a cow or sow is about ready to have a baby(s). If dad counts someone missing, everyone is sent to the pasture to find the animal, and if you’re the lucky one you will get the sweet reward of finding a the new life of a baby calf or a litter of baby pigs curled up next to their mama; healthy and happy as they could be and it can turn any day into great day.

5. Livestock are loyal to their farmers

farmer and dogOne thing you must know about livestock is that they are loyal. Back at home, we have four dogs and each one shows their loyalty in different ways. When I am home, my dog is always by my side. He always helps me with the chores and goes out with me in the pasture to walk the fence and check the animals.

Raising livestock isn’t easy, but the pros outweigh the cons. Every day farmers care for their livestock in the best way possible, and in return, each day is a little bit brighter having shared it with the animals.

ellen childressEllen Childress
Illinois State University student

10 WORDS ABOUT AGRICULTURE THAT MAY HAVE CONFUSED YOU

When hearing agriculture words sometimes we sit back and think “what is that exactly? How is that used?” Some terms are very confusing and without using them yourself they wouldn’t make sense. Here are some common agriculture terms I am used to hearing from my family and being surrounded by others in agriculture.

  1. Tagging. When a new calf is born most farmers choose to tag the ear on them. The purpose of this is to keep an identification on the calf in relation to the mother and the year they were born. You might hear your friends say “going to spend my night tagging tonight”.
  2.  Harvest. During the fall months of the year, farms spend countless hours out harvesting crops. This is the process of collecting plants that were planted in the spring. One of the prettiest times of the year is during harvest seeing all the bright plants of summer change to yellow and brown are so fitting with fall.
  3. Irrigation. Luck enough in the Midwest we usually do not have to use irrigation systems but in southern Illinois, it is a very common thing. With clay soil and not very much water this season it is important to have a controlled water source for our crops. This is why as farmers we are always praying for rain!
  4. Bushel. If you have ever come across your local farm report on the radio you have heard this term many of times. Such as price per bushel this week has gone up or has went down. This is used as a measurement for dry crops, usually 1 peck (which is what we use for apples so imagine 1 bushel equals 42 pounds of apples).
  5. Combine. One of the most important pieces of equipment in agriculture. Used to harvest and thresh crops which is very important. Growing up as a farm kid spending hours in the combine with your dad is something we look forward to.
  6. Steer. No not in that direction! We’re talking cattle not directions this time. A male calf that has been castrated, which is important if you want to eat the meat. This keeps the taste very fresh and not very tough!
  7. Cover Crop. Blankets are optional when planting these crops! When it is off season for our main crops to grow (such as corn and soybeans) we grow cover crops! This helps with keeping the soil exactly how we would like it till we can plant our main crops again.
  8. Acre. I always tell people that an acre is very close to the size of a football field. This is the measurement we use in farming to describe an amount of land that we are using. Around 44,000 square foot is the total distance, imagine having to walk that!
  9. Compost. Most of us could actually start composting in our yards very easily too! We use waste matter (leaves, egg shells and old food) which is very easy to find. This is a very nutritious fertilizer for plants and something fruit and vegetable farms use often.
  10. Specialty Crop. Some of my favorite snacks are specialty crops! This is all the fruits, vegetables, and nursery crops we grow. With more difficulties growing locations and seasons this why they get the name that they have, but they do make the best treats.

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

#TBT: MAKE SCIENCE MORE FUN WITH AG!

[Originally published: October 6, 2015]

Bringing agriculture into the classroom is a great idea to cultivate an assortment of topics and subjects into a theme around the school year. Agriculture and science coincide with each other, but agriculture is often overlooked in science. One unit about agriculture can crack abstract topics in chemistry, microbiology, biology, and environmental science. Here is a list of great ideas to utilize in your next science lesson:

Growing Seeds in a Jar Seed-Germination-Activity1

This experiment is easy, cost-effective, and fun; a younger crowd would enjoy this compared to high school students. All you need are glass jars, seeds, and wet paper towels. Have the students wet the paper towels, put the towels in the glass jar, place the seeds inside the jar, and wait a few days to see germination! You can use this experiment for a biology lesson that talks about photosynthesis or the plant life cycle! Also, this experiment is a great segue into talking about how plants provide us resources we need to survive such as food and clothes.


Incubation and Embryonic Growth

baby chickThis experiment is a bit more common than #1; I remember doing this project in 5th grade; it’s one of the things I can remember from long ago. With this, it’s simple: nurturing eggs into chicks allows students to visualize life and to learn the importance for our lives. Chickens play a huge role in agriculture because of what they do on a farm. My favorite memory of it was hearing the chicks chirp when they eventually made their way out of the shells.

Friendly Farm Visit

kids visiting farmThis past summer I interned with my county farm bureau with Agriculture in the Classroom; each day we took the kids to a local farm to learn about various topics from plant growth to DNA. The hands on experience offered the kids something they couldn’t learn from a textbook. They got to visualize how their clothes were made (shearing a sheep) to watching their food grow six feet in a few months (corn stalks) to learning how breeds of cows differ (natural selection).

Chemical and Physical Changes

soybean crayonsThis topic can be tricky in Chemistry. As we know, a chemical change is a change of a substance with a different composition than what it started off as. On the other hand, a physical change is the change in appearance with the composition staying the same. To easily demonstrate a chemical change to students, show a bowl of soybean seeds and then show a box of crayons. Why? Because soybeans are morphed into crayons (along with other substances). In the beginning, the seed is just a seed but it’s composition and appearance change when it’s used for crayons. For a physical change, show a bowl of corn seeds, a corn stalk, and an ear of corn. Why? Well, the corn seed is morphed into a plant that grows seeds (kernels) from itself. The seed that was planted had the same composition as the kernels on the ear of corn.

Composting for Kids

A great idea to teach environmental science with agriculture is to start composting! Sounds weird, right? It’s a great hands-on experience that teaches kids a great way to be sustainable. It also shows students how we can reuse our resources and not waste products. Compost is comprised of decayed organic matter such as manure, food scraps, grass clippings, and leaves. Manure comes from farm animals, and food scraps come from humans and animals. Composting also teaches about the life cycle. Compost can help the growth of plants which helps to feed us and animals who produce the manure and food scraps that turns into compost, repeat.  No matter what grade you teach, composting is a great way to teach kids about environmental science!

If kids aren’t understanding a science concept, it’s always a great idea to step outside the box! Agriculture is a great way to spice up the science curriculum while teaching students about topics that still matter to education and to our lives.

michelle nickrent

Michelle Nickrent
University of Illinois student

 

 

TOUR A PIG FARM FROM YOUR COUCH

 

Ever wanted to visit a farm but (a) don’t know any farmers to ask or (b) don’t have any farms near you? Well, Illinois Farm Families (IFF) and the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) are giving you the opportunity to tour a pig farm without leaving the comfort of your home!

Illinois Farm Families is a collaborative effort between several Illinois ag associations to reach consumers and provide information to non-farmers that have questions and want to learn.

On September 28th, IFF live broadcasted the tour from their Facebook account. The almost 40-minute session gave insight to not only the life of livestock farmer but gave viewers the chance to have their questions answered by livestock and agriculture experts, ranging from concerns about nutrition to light-hearted inquiries about the smell of the farm.

You can watch the video about or check it out on IFF’s Facebook page.

Learn more about Illinois Farm Families.

REGARDLESS OF THE LABEL, DAIRY IS LOCAL

[Originally published from Illinois Farm Families]

Our family has been farming in central Illinois for more than 150 years and shipping our milk to local bottling plants for distribution in surrounding communities. We’re just one of many dairy farms across the country – in fact there are dairy farms in all 50 states shipping milk to neighborhood stores and markets, making dairy a true local food!

So what does it take to bring you some local goodness? Well, every day, regardless of birthdays, weddings, graduations or weather, our alarm sounds long before the sun comes up. We milk our cows twice a day and on average, each cow spends about eight minutes in the milking parlor – five of those minutes with the milking units attached. Our milk is cooled down to 38 degrees until the milk hauler comes to the farm. Then our milk is transported to the Prairie Farms bottling plant in Peoria, Ill. Testing is done for quality and safety before the milk is pasteurized, homogenized and bottled. Milk offers great nutrition with a lean source of protein, Vitamins A, D and calcium, just to name a few.

About 48 hours after the milk leaves our farm, it arrives on your store shelves and then on your dinner table!

We all want to sit around the dinner table and feed our family fresh food grown and raised by local farmers. It’s a concept that has recently been rebranded as “farm to table” but has actually been around for a very long time. On my family’s dairy farm, we are proud to say that with our without a “local” label, we have been providing the highest quality milk for our community for more than five generations. So, pour yourself a cold glass of milk or enjoy a heaping bowl of ice cream and know it came from a local farmer just a few days earlier.

MARY FABER

Mary raises dairy cattle and grain with her husband, Jesse, and two children in central Illinois. Mary’s great-grandfather started the dairy farm over 150 years ago with just a handful of cows. Today, her family continues to live and farm on those original acres. Farming is a history and a passion for Mary and her family!

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #2: WHY MY FAMILY FARM IS BIG BUT NOT A FACTORY FARM

[Originally published: October 11, 2016]

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.

Cowger_Dakota_IL CORN INTERN 2x3 16

 

Dakota Cowger
Illinois State University