What do you get on a 70-degree day with sun, animals, impressive farm equipment and fourth-graders from South Jacksonville Elementary, Salem Lutheran and Washington Elementary Schools raring to go? You get the first of four days of Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom farm tours. During April 24-27, approximately 400 fourth-graders from Morgan and Cass County schools visited Hadden Farms to see, touch, smell and hear farm life first-hand.
Since its inception around 1995, the program has reached more than 10,000 kids, according to Jim Carlton, retired Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau manager. During 2016-’17, the program visited almost every fourth grade classroom in Cass and Morgan Counties. Topics presented during the year included farm safety, pumpkins, Thanksgiving, corn and beans, plus Illinois products. The farm tour is the climax of the year for the students.
Do you what products are grown in Illinois? The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) says the state is a leading producer of soybeans, corn and swine. Other agricultural commodities include cattle, wheat, oats, sorghum, hay, sheep, poultry, fruits and vegetables. Illinois also produces several specialty crops, such as buckwheat, horseradish, ostriches, fish and Christmas trees.
For the Ag in the Classroom tours, students and teachers ate sack lunches on the farm before the tour began, while a drone flew overhead and took their picture.
Standing beside at 30,000-pound tractor (into which students later were able to climb) and huge planter, retired junior high math teacher Rick Coop asked each group if any of their grandparents or parents farmed. In one group of 30 students, nine students raised their hands as having grandparents that had farmed. The same group was asked if their parents farmed and no one raised their hand. He explained that each year people get farther and farther removed from the farm. Years ago, probably most of the kids would have raised their hands.
The IDOA website indicates the state has 75,087 farm operators, down from 164,000 in 1959. The average farm size has also more than doubled, as sophisticated technology made many aspects of the industry less labor-intensive. Illinois farmers are generally more than 50 years old and 49 percent hold jobs off the farm and consider farming their secondary occupation.
Coop introduced students to the tractor and planter by asking if anyone had a garden, then following up by asking what was the first thing they did with it.. Several students said they had gardens and a few said the first thing they did was “dig a hole,” while one said “till it.” Coop went on to explain that the planter was a 32-row no-till planter. He said with all the computerization, these planters can do many things save a lot of time and labor, even keep rows straight. This machine allows them not to clear and plow fields before seeding. There is a row cleaner in the front, which spins and clears away debris, while another element starts to dig holes and another slices the ground making a “v.” Seeds that are put into the yellow container on the machine and air blows the seeds through the machine to be planted in the ground. Once the seeds are planted, the press wheel covers the seed back up. He quizzed the students on math problems of how much seed would it take to plant different amounts of ground.
Another massive piece of farm equipment that the students learned about was the combine. The combine they were shown was a Class 8 combine, one of the biggest used around this area. This machine harvests grain crops. It reaps, threshes and winnows all in a single process. Many of the students stood by the machine’s wheels and tried to reach the top on their tiptoes and still couldn’t.
Later, students were able to enter an empty soybean grain bin. Lindsay McQueen, of the Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau, told them safety is very important on a farm and they normally couldn’t enter a grain bin because it was very dangerous. She said that after the soybeans are harvested with the combine, the grain is brought to a bin and dropped into a clean-grain auger that conveys it into and elevator and into the top of the storage tank. The bin’s temperature is controlled and blows air in to make sure crops stay as dry and fresh as when it goes in. When it is time to sell the beans, farmers unlock the trap door at the bottom and the auger at the bottom pushes the beans through, while another auger is used to get them into the truck to ship out.
The sounds of “braying,” “mooing” and “baaing” animals reminded students that animals are another big part of Illinois farms. Carlton introduced students to “Penny,” a 17-year-old donkey and her daughter, 7-year-old “Fuzzy.” Students learned that pound-for-pound, donkeys are the strongest animals on the farm. Originally used as pack animals because of their strength and sure-footedness which came from their great peripheral vision, donkeys can live from 30-50 years. Carlton explained to students that the Haddens have a lot of show cattle. Sometimes a calf is stubborn and doesn’t want to lead. They put one harness over the calf and another one that is attached over the donkey. The calf learns quickly to follow when someone leads because donkeys, also known for their stubbornness, will go where they want to go. For instance if the donkey wants to get a drink of water, it is stronger and more stubborn, so can pull the calf with it. But if they calf wants water, and the donkey doesn’t, the calf is just going to have to wait until the donkey is ready.
Lisa and Gary Hadden, of Hadden Farms, showed the students a litter of 3-month-old pigs that at birth were 3-5 pounds each and are currently 100 pounds each.. Sows generally have 8-12 babies in a litter. These were the Duroc breed – red with floppy ears. The students learned that math was needed to figure out who the pigs were and in what order they were born in the litter. Pigs’ ears are clipped at a day or two old; the clip in either ear indicates a bit of information. The clip in the right ear indicates the mother, while the clip in the left indicates the order of birth in a litter.
The pigs lay in hay and would dig in to keep themselves in it, or they lay in mud to stay cool. To dig, they use their strongest muscles, which are in the pig’s nose and neck. Students learned that every part of the pig could be used. The Haddens pointed out where ham and bacon come from on the pig. When asked what pigs ears might be used for, many students said their dogs chewed on dried pig ears. One student said he kind of felt sorry for the pigs and Mrs. Hadden told students that lifesaving insulin for many diabetic patients comes from pigs and the valves in the pigs are also used during operations for heart valves in human patients.
Teresa Wilson showed the students “Pearl,” the heifer (a female that has never had a calf). Pearl is Cody Hadden’s show animal with a big personality. She seemed to like all the attention from the students, loved being petted and even seemed to like to have her picture taken.
Pearl was born in January 2016 at about 8 pounds and is now about 1,000-1,200 pounds. Calves gain approximately 4½ – 5½ pounds per day. Calves can walk they day they are born and soon learn to run so they can get milk from their mother. Other facts about cattle that students learned included: a cow is a female that has had at least one calf, a bull is mature male that is used for breeding and a steer is a male that has been neutered. Cattle drink gallons of water a day and have multiple stomachs (cows technically only have one stomach, but it has four distinct compartments). Daily water intake may vary from 3-30 gallons per day, depending on age, body size (weight), stage of production and the environment (mainly air temperature).
When asked what cows are used for, the students guessed: milk, meat and after a little prompting, leather.
When a student asked the difference between a brown cow and a black cow, Wilson explained there are different breads with different characteristics. For instance, Pearl was a Hereford and a show cow. Herefords are usually red with white patches. She is not a dairy cow that produces milk. She said Pearl is a not an aggressive animal and even insists on being petted before she will eat. She will be a show animal and then will be bread after that. Normally, cows have one calf per year.
One student asked when the cows are taken to slaughter. Wilson explained that the Haddens are show cattle so are shown and bread, but at her farm, for example, she answered that when cattle are around 1,400-1,600 pounds (1-2 years old).
Students also saw sheep, and learned among other things that they are sheered once a year.
After learning about equipment and animals, students returned to the main barn where they were served ice cream. Students had a fun day, all had different favorite parts of the day, but all agreed that ice cream was a great way to end it.