* I sent my blog contributor, Emily, on this media trip. She was compensated for her time. Her opinions are her own and not swayed by outside sources.*
A few weeks ago I wrote about my upcoming trip to visit a local family farm in IL. On Saturday, October 18th, I spent the day with Mike and Lynn Martz, their family, and other area moms to tour Larson Farms, chat about cattle and crops, learn about animal welfare, ride in a combine, and eat some delicious recipes! It was a wonderful experience!
I didn’t realize how much I missed being on a farm and around animals until this visit. I have been out of that world since moving back to IL from Iowa about 5 years ago! We started the tour by checking out the cattle and how they live.
Larson Farms has a variety of cattle breeds and they arrive from other states like KY, IA and VA, when they’re about 1 to 1.5 years old. Did you know 21% of beef in the United States is actually from the Holstein dairy cow?
The cattle at Larson Farms are kept in groups (~800/barn) because they are social animals. They stand on rubber padded floors for comfort and they have slats to collect the manure (which is later collected and used to fertilize their fields). The barns are designed for the most comfort of the animals: curtains for air movement and warmth and south facing to allow sun in during the cold winter months. These appear to be happy and well cared for cattle!
We learned all about what these cows eat: corn, distiller’s grain (an ethanol byproduct), corn gluten (a cornstarch byproduct), straw from their own wheat crop, and a pellet “vitamin” with soybeans. The mixes depend on what stage the cattle are at and how much longer they have at Larson Farms.
They explained their grain elevators and how the corn is heated and dried before storage. It was all very cool (and big!) and we got to see it all in action as a truck was getting weighed and going through the drop-off process.
Then we headed to the finishing barn. I mentioned in my previous post about how excited I was to see Temple Grandin’s designs in practice—she’s the industry leader in livestock animal welfare. They even mentioned her and how she designed their barn. It’s all about making the animals feel safe and helping them remain calm for the most efficiency.
At Larson Farms, every cow gets an ultrasound! They go through the chute in the finishing barn and the ultrasound shows back fat, marbling, and weight. It helps them decide how much longer a cow needs to stay on their farm.
What about hormones in our beef?
Did you know 97% of cattle use hormones in the US? They showed us M&M’s in a jar as a comparison: 8 M&M’s in one jar to represent 8 nanograms of a hormone found in “natural” beef. In the other jar there were 11 M&M’s to represent the 11 nanograms you’d find in Larson Farms beef that uses hormones. And to put that in perspective, there would be 225 nanograms in a baked potato or thirty times that in birth control.
Grass fed vs grain fed
Most of the cattle that arrive at finishing farms, like Larson Farms, were grass fed first. For about the last 5 months, spent at a finishing farm, they are grain fed. In IL specifically, there are a number of difficulties to grass feeding cattle. The amount of rain we get would cause manure and runoff issues. You need to use a LOT more water, more land, deal with more parasites, use a larger carbon footprint, and have a longer finishing time.
What to look for at the grocery store:
- ALL beef is USDA inspected, so you don’t need to choose a package with that sticker over one without it
- Flecks of white mean flavor so more flecks = more flavor in your cut of beef
- “Select” is the lowest ranking, then “Choice,” and “Prime” is the top
- Certified Angus Beef (CAB) is top of the line and your best bet if you’re trying to impress someone
- You pay for what you get!
A big thank you to Illinois Farm Families for setting up these tours around the state! I thoroughly enjoyed my time and learned a lot! And now I get to say I’ve been on a combine
Guest Writer: Emily Dickey, a Chicago area blogger, went from teaching college physiology to being home with her two children as a social media coordinator, writer, and childbirth educator. You can find her at babydickey.com and emilyrdickey.com.
Written in partnership with Illinois Farm Families. Any opinions are my own.