PIG FARMERS CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT

Did you know that all farmers must learn about and abide by a host of federal and state environmental regulations?  Pig farmers are no different.  They use research to understand and address the impact that large amounts of manure and using land to raise pigs can have on:

• Groundwater and surface water
• Air quality
• Animal manure management
• Land and soil quality
• Land use

Farmers are using all this research and the regulations they must abide by to fuel creative solutions to environmental concerns and to keep growing more pigs to feed more people.

Carbon footprint

American pig farmers are working hard to understand their carbon footprint and watching for opportunities to raise our food smarter.  According to the EPA, only 2.8 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in 2007 came from animal agriculture. Of that percentage, pig farming contributes just a little more than one-third of 1 percent (0.35 percent) of total U.S. GHG emissions.

Air footprint

Right now, a tool is in development to help pig farmers better understand air emissions from their farms and how they can make improvements.

Water footprint

Most of the water used on pig farms is either to irrigate the crops the pigs will eat (90%).  The rest of the water is used to give the pigs something to drink.  The best way farmers are looking to get more control over that water use is to use science and technology to evaluate animal drinking systems.  If we can water our pigs better, we can waste less.

Improvements to our farming methods are the name of the game and we are always trying to do better and trying to find small (and big!) ways to change the way we raise pigs to make less of an impact on our earth.

Thanks to https://www.pork.org/ for this important information on pig farming!

THE LIVESTOCK LIFECYCLE

In our fast-paced society where options are plentiful, time is sparse, and the day-to-day grind can really wear a person out, there’s one daily constant that brings me some amount of joy — or at very least, satisfaction… Food. Luckily for me, life on the farm, in conjunction with my career in corn/agriculture advocacy surrounds me with opportunities to think about where food comes from and what we can do with it. Follow along throughout the spring, summer, and fall as I share my food-related thoughts here on Corn Corps.

Let me start by saying: I love GOOD food. Specifically: fresh, flavorful, home-grown, made-with-love, not-always-healthy, much-anticipated, home-cookin’! Though I grew up surrounded by farming in Northwest Illinois, I’ve only lived on a farm for about 7 years. In that time, I’ve come to understand why March is a love-hate time of year for My Farmer. Depending on the weather (a phrase that’s thrown around A LOT at my house) there are a plethora of things that could go on in March. If the fields are still frozen, cow manure can be spread. If the frost is out, you can think about applying ammonia. We’re likely still expecting the last few baby calves to be born, and in just a few weeks we’ll begin artificially inseminating next year’s calf herd. The numerous babies that have already been born will be exploring the area between their barns and pretty soon they’ll be turned out to pasture for the first time. For me, it’s a genuine springtime feeling of new beginnings! For My Farmer, it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants work schedule.

For my kids, between afternoon visits to the barn to see the new babies, and suppertime around the table, we have some pretty frank conversations. Our four-year-old understands that the meat we’re eating is beef. Beef comes from cattle. The cattle right outside. Every so often we load a couple cattle into our trailer and take them to the butcher. (–Insert gray area here–) …And the beef comes back home and we cook it and eat it for supper. So far, there haven’t been any questions about what exactly happens at the butcher – but when he asks, I’ll explain it to him. We have similar conversations about vegetables. I’m no gardener, but we have a few vegetable plants outside. He watches those grow over the summer and helps harvest the produce. My little guy understands that what we buy in the store comes from a farmer somewhere. Last week I asked my little guy “where did this potato come from?” to which he shrugged and responded, “a farmer market – like both a farmer and a store”. Technically, he was right, despite the fact that I bought it at Walmart. He actually grasps the idea that numerous people worked hard for those mashed potatoes to end up on his plate. I like to think that this framework we’ve laid will result in a lifelong appreciation of both food and the effort it takes to produce it.

The lifecycle of our livestock truly makes a full circle, and that’s one of the coolest parts of farming. We grow corn, in part, to feed our livestock. We breed our livestock to have more livestock. We care for them by keeping them fed, doctored, safe both in the pasture and the barns, and then use their manure to fertilize the fields which will grow to feed them later. At some point along the way, some of them leave us only to return a few weeks later wrapped in white paper, ready to feed our family, which allows us to keep doin’ what we do!

This spring, as you feel the days grow longer and observe life coming back to the land, I hope you enjoy some fresh fruit and vegetables, along with a big, juicy, well-marbled, steak, and feel gratitude for the numerous hands it took to prepare it!

Ashley Deal
IL Corn Membership Assistant

MY WEEKEND AT REEVERT’S FARMS

Does anyone remember learning in junior high science classes that heat rises? Well, I rediscovered that lesson this past September after spending a few hours at Reevert’s farms, the home of the Illinois FFA State Reporter, working in the hay mow.

Not growing up on a farm, I was extremely excited for that weekend feeding calves, hogs, and sheep. At the time, Ryan told me I was going to be putting hay in the mow. I originally thought this meant mowing hay in the field, but in reality, it was putting hay up in the mow. For those that don’t know, the mow is an upper section of the barn where hay is stored. Once we got to the farm, Ryan told me that I was not going to be mowing hay in the field, like I thought. Instead, I was going to be manually moving hay in a hot, sweaty, and cramped environment. Luckily, Ryan’s dad came in to save the day for me and told Ryan that was no way to treat his guest. He told Ryan, “You go up in the mow! Joey didn’t even have a clue what was going on! Don’t be rude!”

In the picture below, you can see Ryan, his dad, and me all posing for a picture. As you can tell, Ryan seems to be more tired than me. That’s because he spent over forty-five minutes in the mow moving hay while my job was putting it on the conveyer belt. Needless to say, I was having the time of my life putting hay in the mow, and so far, my first impressions of daily farm chores were very good.

I learned two lessons from that experience. First don’t trust Ryan and volunteering for farm work, and second, always bring an extra t-shirt.

After that tremendous experience, Ryan told his dad, “go back home! You’re being too easy on the boy! He needs some real work.” Once Ryan’s dad left, we walked over to the pig pen to feed the hogs. Ryan told me, “Get on in there Birrittier. Distract the hogs from the feeder while I fill their feed.”

One thing that Ryan forgot to mention is that his female pigs like to come up and smell the people around them. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t even like it when my dog comes up and smells me, let alone a pig! I suddenly became very scared as these two dark eyes start coming to me closer and closer. Now mind you, it’s dark out now, so all I can see are these two eyes coming right for me. I pin myself into the corner yelling out Ryan’s name. I’m screaming louder and louder until Ryan finally hears me.  He yells back at me, “Quit screaming! You’re going to scare the pigs!” “Scare the pigs!” I replied, “They’re the ones scaring me! Look how close this one is! Help me!” All Ryan could say was, “That’s just Beulah. She just wants to smell you. Relax you wimp.”

Five months later, I still get grief from the Reevert’s family about my experiences with pigs. In my defense, how else would a person react if their first up-close encounter with a pig was it smelling your face?

Although I might have embarrassed myself multiple times, the memories I made that night will last me a lifetime. Not only did I learn to always bring an extra t-shirt to the farm and never overreact when a pig smells your face; I also learned the hard work and dedication it takes day-in and day-out on the farm.

I have a huge admiration for farmers and their families now because of the memories I made at Reevert’s farms.

Joseph Birrittier
Illinois Association FFA President

NOT ALL FARMS HAVE LIVESTOCK

When many of us encounter someone who lives on a farm, the first question that tends to pop into our minds is, “What kind of animals do you have?” To the surprise of many, not all farms raise livestock. Not every farmer is comparable to Old McDonald.

Let’s dive into history for a minute and take a look at farms existing about 100 years ago: the year 1918. Many more farms existed because each operator had less land to tend and care for. Because of this, more farms had livestock and were able to be more diversified. However, fast forward to present day, in order for farms to be successful, farmers must pick and choose specialties to focus on for their operation. For example, when students select what major they would like to pursue at a college or university, they likely combine their interests and career goals to choose a career path. By combining interests with job outlook in a certain career area, students are essentially specializing their education to best fit their desired job. Farmers have a similar process; they select one or two specialties for the sake of best-combining resources to meet production needs.

So what kinds of farms do we have here in Illinois? I’m glad you asked. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), a farm is classified as an operation that makes $1,000+ each year. Taking this classification into account, in 2016 Illinois reported having 72,200 farming operations. Illinois had 11.6 million acres of planted in 2016. That’s more than any other commodity grown in our state. The runner-up to corn was soybeans, coming in at 10.1 million acres planted. Those two grains were on more farms than all other commodities combined.

Now, just because many of our operations have grain does not mean no livestock exist. We had over 300,000 beef cattle (used for meat production) and over 5 million hogs as well. But aside from grain and livestock, we have some really unique farms in Illinois that stand out from the norm. For instance, Illinois had 1,200 acres of peaches, 45,000 acres of oats and 7,000 acres of potatoes planted in 2016.

This goes to show we are really diversified here in this mid-Western state. While many of us may not realize it, Illinois features a wide array of farms that bring great significance to our agriculture diversity. So the next time we bump into someone that owns or operates a farm, strike up a conversation with him or her. But before we ask more details about what the farm’s specialty is, remember: not all farms have livestock.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

SPENDING MORE FOR HORMONE FREE?

Did you realize that you don’t need to?

Per federal law, hormone use is not allowed for growth promotion in hog farming or poultry farming.  Hormones are sometimes used and allowed for reproductive purposes in hogs.

Therefore, grocery store labels reading “hormone free” on packages of chicken and pork are just marketing ploys for consumers to purchase these products.

In cattle farming, farmers are allowed to use growth hormones.  The hormones are injected under the skin of the ear where the hormones dissolve slowly over time.  This is not all that different from women using an IUD (slow release hormone) to control pregnancy!

Growth hormones are used to produce leaner meats more efficiently.  They are in the ear because the ear is never used or consumed.

If this still makes you nervous, here’s a visual representation of the amount of hormones in the steak you might have on your plate.

If we use one M&M to represent the amount of nanograms of hormones in our foods, then a three-ounce steak would have half an M&M, while three ounces of cabbage would have a mason jar full.

There really is no need to pay more for hormone-free protein.  If you feel better and safer about it, then buy it!  But buy it with your eyes wide open.

 

HOW TO BECOME A FARMER: LIVESTOCK COULD BE KEY

Periodically, I review the list of terms that bring people to our blog.  Among the front-runners, every single month, are searches of people wanting to become farmers.

“How to become farmer”
“How to start farming”
“Can I buy a farm”

I’m guessing what they eventually find is that it’s super hard to “get started” in farming.  You don’t just quit your job one day and decide that you want to be a farmer because the startup income you’d need is prohibitively large.

To start farming, a young person typically needs to begin working for a farmer and learning the ropes.  After all, there’s so much about taking for the land and animals that is intuitive and based on years and years of experience.  A first-time farmer needs a few years of experience under his or her belt AND the wisdom to listen to his farmer employer and learn from her experience as well.

But after you’ve put your time in, building a livestock barn could be the key to becoming a farmer if that’s what your heart desires.

In the pig farming industry, there are several larger companies that are often looking for “pig spaces,” or barns to house their pigs and farmers to care for those pigs.  If you are interested in starting a farm and you can get the bank to loan you the money to build a barn, you just might be able to secure a contract with a larger company to fill that barn and guarantee you enough income to get started.

That’s exactly what Chad and Julia Krogman did when they opened their first wean-to-finish pig barn earlier this month.  (Wean-to-finish means that they will take piglets into their barn as soon as they are weaned, and the pigs will grow and live there until they are harvested for meat.)

Chad and Julia grew up and rural communities and have worked on farms and in the ag industry their entire lives.  They have saved their pennies and eventually moved some pigs into an existing empty barn in their community.  Further saving meant that they were able to build their own barn.

“We enjoy raising and caring for livestock and the environment. As first-generation farmers, we see raising hogs as an opportunity to work in an agricultural realm that is very capital intensive.  We feel blessed to have the opportunity to pursue our goals in agriculture and desire to be good stewards of what we’ve been given,” said Chad.

So, if you are really interested in becoming a farmer, first find some seasonal work for a farmer and learn a few things.  Then, consider livestock.  It’s hard work that never quits, but worth it for a life you love.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

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