About 20 miles outside Normal, IL lies a small town of 600 people called Danvers. I grew up on the outskirts with my Mom and Dad, Sister, two dogs and a large amount of barn cats that stayed in our shed. When I was little, I would call out to the cats and kittens every morning before school and they would run up to the house like something was chasing them. They were special to me and watching after them taught me the importance of responsibility.

Then when I was in 6th grade I came home from school, walked in the kitchen and smelled something that reminded me of woodchips and sawdust. My Mom was bent over a large shoebox and I heard a faint “Peep Peep” coming from inside. When I leaned over I saw six ducklings, eating some small green pellets the hatchery sent with them. “They came all the way from California! We’re going to use them for eggs and maybe you can even show them in the county fair!” My Mom said. She let me hold a couple, they were so delicate in the palm of my hand and I couldn’t wait for them to grow.

And sure enough in just a week they were double their size and we had to move them to an old baby pool in our basement so they would fit. By one month we had a pen built for them outside, complete with a little house my Dad built from old pieces of our machine shed. I was in charge of morning chores (changing their bedding and checking food/water) and my sister took the night shift. Together we collected the eggs we used for baking and took care of them all on our own. I would be sitting outside reading a book and the most outgoing male, which we named Tucker, would just come up and sit on my lap, just like a cat!


Then one day I came home from school and went to check on the ducks and cats. When I walked up I saw one of our ducks, Violet, had gotten her neck stuck underneath the pen. I could tell she was struggling to break free and her beak was jammed underneath the wood frame. I ran to my Dad and we carefully loosened her neck and brought her inside. We took a tub, lined it with warm towels and propped her neck up. I sat there all night with some feed mixed with water and sugar, trying to somehow nurse her back to health. We did everything we possibly could, My Mom even called our veterinarian but there was heavy nerve damage and there was nothing more we could do. I could tell she was getting weaker and the brace I fashioned from athletic tape wasn’t working. Eventually she passed and I cried for a long time, I had raised her on my own and thinking back to when they were just little balls of fuzz in my hand I remembered how fragile life is. I cared for Violet just has much as my household pets.

Time went by fast, and before I knew it I was a sophomore in high school, we still have two of the six ducks from the little shoebox, and about twenty more! My sister and I showed them in the county fair during the summer (she always seemed to win Grand Champion) and we collected eggs and sold them to various family members and friends. The workload increased but it became something that brought us all together. I loved working with the ducks and they were a part of our family. The experience taught me the circle of life, responsibility and most of all that love comes in all shapes and sizes.

sombeckEmily Sombeck
Illinois State University Student


Life on the farm always meant lots of animals.

I remember one fall when my dad inadvertently killed a mama bunny with the combine when harvesting the corn.  Somehow, he found the nest and brought all those baby bunnies home for me to raise and play with.  What’s more fun than a box of baby bunnies?

I remember one spring when my dad and Alex (our hired man) found a den of baby foxes that had lost their mother on the busy road.  Picture an older, overweight man trying to outrun a handful of baby foxes with lots of sliding and falling in the loose dirt in the field.  I was old enough at this point to die laughing at the scene.  We eventually called a nature conservancy who came and got them.

I remember brisk evenings, just after school started, spent cleaning out the dog kennels and remarking the puppy’s ears.  My dad had hunting dogs and we sold a few litters when I was in high school.  Puppies add a lot of chores to the mix, but they certainly are so cute and cuddly that you almost don’t mind.

barn kittiesBut most of all, I remember summers – endless summers – with the barn cats and their kittens that seemed to proliferate our farm.

I’m a fan of names and I guess I always have been.  As a little girl, my first cat was Custard (Strawberry Shortcake had a cat named Custard too) but in the years that followed I had Lucretia, Athena, Abby, Grant, Quincy, Callie, Percy, Otis, Rambo and Sambo. We even had Pancake and Fuzzy, though my grandma named those.  And I’m sure a host of others that didn’t live long enough for me to remember.

Yes, I spent countless hours with each of those as kittens, petting, playing house, sometimes bottle feeding, and reading.  I also spent days watching pregnant mama-cats waddle across the farm, anticipating the arrival of litters of kittens, and then, seeing that same Mama scrawny and droopy days later, spent hours searching for that litter of kittens to find what colors and patterns she’d delivered.

I loved every single one of those barn cats.

But there were so many kittens that died.  So many that got up inside the motor of a vehicle that they shouldn’t have been in, so many that wandered too close to harvest and the whir of the combine, so many that were simply cast out by their mama-cats instead of being nursed and loved.

In this way, I learned early about life and death.  Life is a gift to be anticipated and full of excitement, just like finding that litter of kittens.  Death is inevitable; to be mourned and always expected, just like the runt that mama-cat turns away.

These days, there is a lot of talk about farmers not caring for their animals and treating them inhumanely.  There is talk about meat eaters, killing animals for their dinner plates.  There is talk about hunters who make sport out of harvesting animals from the countryside.

But I think the problem is that people have lost track of the circle of life.  They’ve forgotten that death is inevitable and expected.  Maybe they have come to view death as something to fear because of a lack of faith rather than something to rejoice.

As a child growing up on the farm, each death was mourned.  And each death was expected.  It wasn’t cruel or unusual, it just was.

I carry this understanding with me today as an adult and I believe it’s the perspective from this lifetime of farm pets that makes me question conventional thinking.  Harvesting pigs or cattle isn’t something to be scared of, it just is.  It’s not cruel or unusual and it is certainly not inhumane.

Death is as much as part of life as is the act of being born.

Maybe the point is that farmers and their families aren’t heartless.  Yes, each farm kid has a painful lesson to learn when his prize winning steer, the calf he raised and halter broke and spent the summer with, turns into dinner, but it’s just a fact of life.

Animals are born.  Animals die.  Just like people.  It is inevitable and expected.  And never fun.  It just is.

It is the circle of life.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Even if your closest link to farming is the fields you see when you are driving down the road, you probably know that spring means a lot of farmers are getting their crops in the ground. But what does springtime mean for livestock farmers? This weekend, I took a few photos of our cattle farm. As you can see, springtime means lots of baby animals on our farm!

We choose to have all of our calves born in the springtime. The main reason for this is the well-being of our cows and calves. Springtime usually offers good weather for calving- not too hot, not too cold. Extreme weather conditions are a threat to newborn calves, so we try to avoid exposing them to these kinds of weather conditions.

During calving season, we need to check our cows more often to make sure that we know if one is in labor and whether or not she needs help. Ideally, cows have their calves without assistance and everyone is happy and healthy. Once in a while, though, cows need help giving birth. Problems such as a leg or head positioned wrong can make it almost impossible for a cow to have her calf. If it takes her too long, the life of the newborn calf is at risk. Once the umbilical cord is broken, the calf has no oxygen supply, so it becomes priority to get the head and chest of the calf out quickly.

Cows aren’t the only ones with new babies on the farm! These cute little guys live in our shed where we store our seed for the crops. Mice can cause huge problems and waste a lot of seed by chewing holes in the seed bags, so keeping cats around helps to keep our mice population down and ultimately saves us money on seed.

We used to have pigs on our farm before all of our pasture was used for cattle. Springtime always meant (you guessed it) baby pigs! My dad would bring my brother and I with him to care for the new pigs, so we would always sit on the roof of the hog huts and hold piglets while he worked. Sows are incredibly protective, so the roof of the hog huts was a safe place to us to be while we were out working with dad.

Spring is a critical time of year for both grain and livestock farmers… but it is something we look forward to every year!

Rosie Sanderson
ICGA/ICMB Membership Administrative Assistant
Unpolished Boots


To celebrate National FFA Week, the students at Heyworth High School in Heyworth, IL, held a petting zoo for the non-farm kids to learn a little something about what they do.  Here are a few pictures of a local daycare visiting the animals, as you can see, the kids loved it!