Friday, January 3, 2014

JNP Ranch of Castle Rock, Colorado

Let's hear it for the first post of the New Year! Today we welcome Keith and Karen Penry.  They have a heritage breed ranch in Colorado!

We began livestock farming in 1998. My husband always wanted to farm. He spent his summers on his grandparent's farm in Iowa and still returns to Iowa each fall to help with harvest. Although both of us come from strong agricultural stock (my family settled and ranched the west and his farmed on the plains), I was wary of the life. I wanted my kids to grow up with more. I didn't want to be dirt poor, which is the view I had of farmers. It's not that I didn't love the idea of living off the land--living off the land was my dream--but I was practical, reasonable, realistic, and just plain scared of losing everything.

In 1995, we moved to Douglas County, Colorado. Large portions of the surrounding area were still rural. The move seemed to unleash the farming monster in my husband. He had opportunities to connect with land owners and that's exactly what he did. While he was making connections away from home, at home he was wheedling away at me.

Finally, in December 1998, after much crying, I gave in. We leased some land from a local native and JNP Ranch was born. We'd been married for nearly 9 years and had 3 young children. I was scared, but excited too. First we had cattle. We were raising them for beef, but that quickly turned into a breeding operation. And the kids were right there, working along side us every step of the way. We loved teaching our children about the sanctity of life and giving back to the earth. We loved teaching them about where their food really came from and what it means to work hard. We loved allowing them to see livestock up close and personal from birth to death.

Soon, we had friends and neighbors asking us if we would take their kids out to see the animals and work. When my husband broke his ankle, the young men from the church helped me feed and clean over the next several weeks. What started out as an opportunity for us to give our children a chance to experience a bit of country life soon turned into an adventure for friends, children of friends, neighbors, extended family, and now grandchildren. We feel so fortunate to have built a lifetime of memories that involve so many people we hold dear.

Over the years, we've ebbed and flowed, trying to find our place in agriculture. We wanted to make it work very badly, but we weren't allowed to make improvements or really possess the land we farmed on. Finally, in the fall of 2012, we bought our own place. We own 40 acres in southeast Douglas County. When we made the move, we basically started over. We have had one trial after another--predators, disease, weather--but we also know that this is it. This is our last chance to have a go at making a life in farming.

From the beginning, we always wanted to raise "natural" meat products on a small family farm. I wanted to farm like my grandfather. He was diversified and old-fashioned, but successful. Much of what we do is modeled after our grandfathers' operations. Our adventure in Ag eventually led us to heritage breed animals. It just made sense--raising animals adapted to our drier climate with distinctive seasons. We currently have heritage breed hogs, turkeys, and chickens. Our sheep are a Suffolk-Hampshire cross. Eventually we may move over to heritage breed sheep as well. Only time will tell.

Our children are grown now. Two of them still live at home. All three of them are still involved on the ranch. We all have to work off-farm, so it takes all of us to run the farm. I teach part-time at a local school. On the days I'm not teaching, I am trying to catch up at home. That may include making a feed run, getting other supplies, cleaning pens or coops, fixing fence, or simply working on my household duties. A typical day for us starts off with a morning run for my husband. Then, he comes to get me to do chores. I usually do the poultry chores and he does the hogs and sheep. We both head off to our jobs until evening. On winter evenings, when the sun sets early, our children usually do evening chores--either together or alone. Invariably, we spend a day or two each week fixing something, rounding up renegade animals, or moving animals. Invariably, somebody has decided that they want to go wandering away from home.

Summers and Saturdays are huge work times for us. I work outside all summer long. I'm feeding, building, fixing fence, cleaning up debris, or attacking daily emergencies. Saturdays are always busy for us. My husband always has a to-do list longer than the day is long.

I don't know if we have a favorite part of the ranch. I love the poultry--especially the turkeys. As soon as I say that, though, I think about how much I love the pigs, too. How can I describe it? We love our Colorado farm life--the beautiful scenery (that is my front yard), lots of sunny days, animals that come running when they see you, animals that talk to you and wait for you to scratch them on the head, babies galore, blue and brown and white eggs, ducks quacking, chicks and piglets exploring, and lambs frolicking. We are blessed with joy in some form every day.

Farm life is hard. We work hard all day and come home to put in another full day's work in the evening. We see lots and lots of tragedy--especially death. We've pitched hay in snowstorms, dug ditches in the springtime so the muck will flow, swatted flies and mosquitos, fixed miles and miles of fence, picked up the carcasses of chickens drowned in a flash flood, freed various vehicles from ditches and snowbanks and mud, nursed dying babies, rescued animals soaked from a leaky roof, walked around with a chick or a turkey poult or a piglet stuck in our shirt in hopes that our body heat can save them from imminent death, and cried in anguish proclaiming we cannot take one more day. Still, here we are. We're here because as hard as this life is, it's worth it. It breaks us down and yet it's rewarding at the same time. We love our life, our animals, our family. We can't imagine a better way to spend our time. On most days, we feel blessed.

I'm not sure that I need to say more, but if there is one thing I'd like the world to know, it's that we are not monetarily wealthy. We don't do this for the money. Every penny we make (and then some) is dumped back into the ranch. So, when you ask to buy from us, don't question our prices. Believe that we are giving you a fair and honest price for fair and honest work. I say on our website that it's about conservancy, stewardship, and sustainability. It is. We are here to partake in and preserve a way of life, but we need customers to find value in quality farm products at a fair price. If customers demand lower and lower prices, eventually all that will be left is fake food like CoolWhip and Twinkies.

Thank you for a great post!  To learn more about JNP Ranch be sure to visit their website (, follow their blog (, twitter account ( and like them on Facebook (

What's your story?  How are you involved in feeding the world?  We want to hear from YOU.  E-mail us at to learn how you can be the next Faces of Agriculture Feature!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kellie Gregorich - Farm Strong

Today we welcome Kellie!!! She has a passion for agriculture and is FARM strong!

My name is Kellie and I hale from the eastern part of Iowa! I grew up on a small cow/calf operation. We’re a start to finish cattle farm so I got to see every aspect there was to raising cattle. We raise around 60 Shorthorns, Herefords, and I just purchased my first Miniature Herefords. We used to have more, but because it’s just the two of us, I work full time, and dad is 60, we’ve cut back to make things easier.

Agricultural has always been a part of my life. It means everything to me. If I’ve had a bad day, a day on the farm can take away all the worries, concerns, and bad feelings. Ever heard of ‘runner’s high’? Well I have ‘farmer’s high’. It’s been in my blood for generations. It’s something I thrive on and enjoy doing. Most women don’t get excited about feeding calves, having a bottle calf, grinding feed, or raking hay, but this one does. Farming will be something that I do for the rest of my life. In 3rd grade we had to draw what we wanted to be. I drew “Farmer Kellie”. Someday I hope to be a full time farmer and make 3rd grade Kellie’s dream a reality.

A typical day for me is advocating for agriculture. I am a board member for the Iowa Women in Agriculture, member of Iowa Agri Women, member of American Agri Women, and writer for my own blog on what really happens on the farm. Once I’m done with that I go to work on the farm. As most of you know, there never is a typical day on the farm. We go from grinding feed, hauling manure, sorting cattle, feeding calves, planting crops, harvesting crops, and picking the eggs from the chickens. Every day on my farm is an adventure.

My favorite thing about living on the farm is the environment. That sounds funny doesn’t it? The fresh air, the wind through my hair, the smell of my tractors exhaust, the cows bellowing, the smell of fresh cut alfalfa, and many other great things that others don’t ever get to experience. It’s such a relaxing and comforting place to be. It’s all mine and it’s my favorite place in the entire world. My family knows that if they can’t find me, I’m out in the pasture petting my cows.

One thing I wish people would understand about is animal rights. I’m going to make this short and sweet. Our animals are our livelihood. They feed our families. Animals that are better cared for bring more money to our home. We treat our animals better than our children. Why would we treat our animals poorly knowing that we get less money? Think about that.

I’m farm strong and am loving my life as a women in agriculture! If your interested in learning more about my life and what I do, please follow me on instagram, facebook, twitter, and on my blog!

Thanks Kellie for a great feature! Be sure to check out her blog!!!

Are you FARM STRONG? Tell us about it by becoming the next feature!  E-mail us a

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Missouri Farm Boy in the City

Today we have a bit of a different post.  Meet Colby of My Ag Life.  He is a farm kid living and working in the city.  He writes about his passion for agriculture and what he misses most about the rural life.

You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country: What My 5 Senses Miss Most
It’s often been said, “you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” I am walking, talking, breathing, blogging proof that your roots always stick with you. I was told to go where the wing would blow, but it blows away.

I grew up in the northwest corner of Missouri, near a little town called Helena. The town itself has two hundred or less people. I had nine kids in my elementary school class and lived about two miles down a gravel road from the old school house. That sweet, simple, small town way of life has stuck with me to this day.

I went to college at the University of Missouri, and I thought that was plenty big enough. After graduating I landed a job in Saint Louis, working in agri-advertising for Dekalb, Asgrow, Channel, and other brands. Staying connected to rural folks and that way of life has become more and more difficult, which is why I started MyAgLife blog and reaching out to those who come from backgrounds like mine. I don’t want to be one who carries on about their self, so I am gonna to get to it.

I miss big skies, starry nights, coyotes yipping, frogs croaking and crickets chirping. I miss dropping a line, gravel roads and grain dust. I could go on forever, but I am going to keep this list in relation to the five senses.

Without any ado, here is what I am missing most about home and country living:

-           The smell of Grandma’s fresh vegetables, with the earthy aroma staining my hands. If I close my eyes I can still feel the grittiness of the cucumbers piled in my shirt, used as a basket. The rough, prickly feel of the vines and leaves, and the sun baked garden soil digging into my knees.

-           Mom’s flowerbeds, and the perfume that drifted in through open windows when the wind blew on summer afternoons. Vibrant oranges, purples, reds, pinks yellows and whites decorated the front porch and areas around the house.

-           Silage. For some reason, I love the smell of silage. Being at my dairying families’ houses and smelling the thick, damp, heavy, pungent scent of warm silage. Winter winds would swirl and bite at the fingers, but tarped over silage would steam up and warm the hands.

-           The smell of burning leaves in the fall that would cling to jeans and sweatshirts. A smoky aroma of its own, burning leaves in crisp fall air that nips at the skin and raises hairs when the wind blows.

-           The smell of line-dried laundry. A scent so refreshing that I would actually be excited to go to bed, dive nose first into the pillowcase and press my skin against the cool sheets.

-           The sight of a harvest moon coming up over the east pasture and fields. The only sounds coming from nature, and that bright, rustic orange ball climbing higher into the darkening sky

-           The gilded autumn afternoons during the reaping season. I loved watching grain dust drifting through an ember evening air during harvest.

-           Stars. In town, there are no stars. I miss the nights of gazing deep into clusters of star soaked emptiness, and feeling wonderfully small.

There are limitless things to list that can only be found in pastoral lifestyle. I could have listed the cordial nature and togetherness of close-knit communities, or family, or anything else (of course those are very important), but it is the subtleties and things often overlooked that really make a place unique and even more worthy of homesickness. It feel it is important to remember the details of home and a good way of life.
You can follow Colby on his blog My Ag Life.  And follow him on Facebook!
Tell us about your Ag Life!!! We need your story! E-mail Elizabeth and Jamie at

Friday, October 18, 2013

Utah Ranchers - The Cox Family

Today we welcome Dustin and Harmony Cox of Alton, Utah.  Dustin and Harmony are raising several little cowgirls and have a passion for taking care of their animals and the land they live on!

We are located in southern Utah in a small town named Alton. There is about 117 people half, of which are under the age of 14. It is located right in the middle of three major national parks:  Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Grand Canyon National Park. Our summer range is on National Forest ground through a private lease which is near Bryce Canyon National Park. Our winter range borders the Grand Canyon. Basically our location is just a little bit of heaven
We have a cow calf operation and a hay brokerage business. We broker hay to dairy's across the nation. Our beef cows run in the high mountains of Utah during the summer. In mid-October we wean our calves and we process our cows and then we take them to northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon for the winter. Around the first of June we brand and move them back up to the mountains of Utah.

We retain our own heifers as replacements. The steers are sold on contract every year in July for an October delivery right off the cow. Heifers that are not replacements are also sold on the contract. On the ranch we are able to get by without any employees at this time - except for ourselves and our five wonderful cowgirls. For our hay brokerage business we buy hay from Utah, Nevada, southern Idaho, Arizona, and Nebraska farmers then we sell it to dairy's in California, Texas, New Mexico and Iowa. I am responsible for sampling the hay, marketing the hay and the finding the transportation of the hay. Harmony does the accounts payable and accounts receivable and makes it all run smooth.
Harmony grew up on 1,000 head cow/calf operation and a small hay operation right here in Alton. She spent her youth pushing cows, branding calves, fixing fence stacking hay. Her dad didn't buy a big baler till all the kids were gone. I grew up in Orderville working on a 500 head cow calf ranch called the Corral Ranch. I went with my brothers on and off during the summer. The summer I turned 11 I was full-time in the summer and before and after school the rest of the year up until the time I turned 19. Then I served a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My pay for the summer wages in 1991 when I was 11 years old was a dogie Herford heifer. I was able to keep that perfect heifer and run her in the herd with the guy I worked for Norman Corral.

Each summer after that I received a heifer and a steer. I got my pick of the heifer and my pick of the steer.  The heifer was to be kept as a replacement and the steer I would show at the county fair. When I was 17 years old Norman allowed my brother and I to run a total of 25 head with him as a bonus. So with the heifers that I had and the cows my brother had, we got a loan from a local bank and bought 10 head of pairs which brought us up to 25. Then we bought a bull from a local bull sale. In 1998 we were able to get those cows paid off and neighboring ranch came up for sale where we could run 75 head year-round we got another loan and bought 75 first calve Hereford heifers off Superior Livestock video auction for $550 a head out of Nevada and expanded our operation.
Harmony and I grew up together, in different towns, but the same school. We served on the religious council and FFA council together in high school. We never dated, but we were great friends. When I was on my mission for the LDS Church we wrote to each other every two weeks and then when I got home we started dating and four months later we were married in the St. George LDS Temple.

Shortly after we were married we split off our cattle operation from my brother and we expanded ours by buying a winter place out by the Grand Canyon and our summer place by Bryce Canyon. Through the most recent years we have expanded that we have now 100 head cow calf operation paid for and financially sound. Each of our girls have a cow that they care for along with the others and they can keep the heifer that she has or a show steer at the county fair.

Right after we were married I began working for a construction company of the family that Harmony knew. Through the school of hard knocks and a very hard, very good employer I was able to run equipment and drove a dump truck most of the summer.  I began going to college at Southern Utah University where I received a Bachelors in Agriculture Business - graduating Magna Cum Laude. Harmony received her degree in Dixie State University with a minor in music.

It was kind of a hard challenge deciding what to do in college. I knew I wanted to raise my family and be involved in agriculture but how was I going to do it? How was I gonna make a living  was a puzzle. I started my college education in ag business and then switched to secondary education to teach Ag. After a year of doing this I followed my heart and went back to ag business.  I'm now making a living and involved agriculture.

The experiences I had working in the construction company, driving a dump truck, enabled me to feel confident to go to work for a hay broker and driving a hay truck from Utah to California. After nine months of working for the hay broker my brother and I bought the truck. About a year and a half of owning the truck I sold my share of the truck to my brother and I began working in the office managing the Hay company. After managing the company for several years the time came to start out on our own in the hay business. The first several months were very nerve-racking and frustrating and downright scary, but through the faith of my great wife we were able to push through and we have become very successful and have great clients made up of dairies farmers and trucks.

A typical day for us on the ranch is: we rise between 6:00 and 6:30.  During the school days we have scripture study from the Bible, from the Book of Mormon and  prayer's before  breakfast then send our kids to school.  The younger girls, Harmony and I go do chores around town and check on cows as needed during the summer. Our cows are only 15 miles away which is pretty easy to get to. One wonderful thing about a beef herd is you don't have to check them every single day unlike a dairy herd.  Although we still do have a milk cow name duck because she's a bad influence on the other cows from the famous book Click Clack Moo.

During the winter months our cows are 100 miles away. We have put in several more pipelines and drinkers to have adequate water and to maximize the grazing area of our ranch. One very unique thing about our ranch is after we breed our heifers, our cows never see a bale of  hay,  They are on the desert range in the winter and on the summer range grazing and performing on their own; without any input costs from feed.  Another unique thing about the ranch is that we help Harmony's family on their ranch and we still do a ten day cattle drive in the fall moving from the summer pasture to the winter pasture in northern Arizona. We go about 100 miles in 10 days camping with them right along the way that's been a unique opportunity for us to do with our family to keep the spirit of lifestyle alive in our home.
In our hay business our number one priority is I always have my cell phone. I love technology! I love Bill Gates, I love Steve Jobs. I love the guys who make these phones work as it has enabled me to go to my kids school plays, to be on a horse, and do business as long as I have service. With the hay business were are constantly on the phone calling farmers looking at hay, driving sampling, lining up trucks and doing what we say we're going to do. When we tell the farmer, dairy or truck something we stick to it. Harmony does all the accounting accounts payable receivable for the ranch and a business.

Working with family and being with family and teaching the family that is the number one best thing about being on the farm and ranch. My favorite time of year on the ranch what ever time it is that day. My wife and I's love for each other and agriculture and our family allowed us to always work together. We started from scratch, from ground zero and built a life doing what we love. Of course we couldn't do it without our heavenly father. We are blessed to have the experience of growing up on ranches and blessed that the hay broker gave us a job driving a truck.  I've always wanted to ranch. My sixth-grade teacher brought my mom a paper that I had written on what I wanted to do for a career.  As I read through that at the age of 12 and then today being 33 my desires and my love for a career to work with the family on a ranch hasn't changed.

I wish people understood more of the products that we grow and raise on farms and ranches. We feed our families also. The same things people put in their mouths and bellies, we put in ours. We are confident with them, we trust them, we trust the partners with those who sell a seed, who sell our cattle, who sell us milk. We are confident. We sit down at the dinner table and the things we eat are safe, delicious and wholesome. We hope the families across America feel the same way.

Being involved in animal agriculture brings up many issues about animal welfare and how we care for the animals. We have a fundamental core belief that God created all things for the use of man. As a rancher we care about our animals, we take care of them. We understand that they have a purpose and that purpose is to feed our families and the families across the world.

Thank you Dustin and Harmony for a GREAT feature!!!

How are you involved in agriculture? What is your story? YOU can be our next feature! E-mail Elizabeth and Jamie at

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Taylor Short - Missouri Agvocate!

Today we welcome Taylor Short from the Missouri Ozarks. Taylor is passionate about agriculture!
My name is Taylor Short and I am senior majoring in agriculture communications at Missouri State. I am proud to be from Missouri more so from the Missouri Ozarks.

I am a third generation Angus breeder; our family has raised Angus cattle for almost 50 years qualifying us for the distinction of Historic Angus Herd in 2014.

Our farm has been in our family for 5 generations. During the summer I show my cattle at various state and national shows/fairs. this has allowed me to make lifelong friends and awesome memories. I write blogs for I love Farmers they Feed my Soul as the lone catalyst for conversation in Missouri – I love being involved in this movement because it gives everything a new light making it cool to talk about agriculture. I am also involved in Farm Bureau at the local, college, and state level.

A typical day since I am still a student involves learning all I can about agriculture.

I live and breathe agriculture. Agriculture is awesome- I mean where we would be without agriculture. Agriculture is my passion. Therefore it is my goal to be an agvocate for my fellow agriculturists and educate anyone who will listen about who works to provide for their food supply as well as other products that are raised by farmers and ranchers. If we don’t agvocate our “services” then those with less experience will – like the media. As agvocates we want the true story from farm to market to enlighten the consumer. Advocacy needs to be progressive in order to attract consumers and be able to answer their questions.

Agriculture is my passion and I want to share my passion with everybody. I was told if we don't tell our stories someone else will tell our stories. agriculture means the world to me I want people know that.

I run into a lot of misconceptions on certain areas that I think a lot of people just are scared and confused about issues...but the whole telling you story is important.

You find me on acebook The Aggie Hipster and on my blog at
I am currently working on a vegetarian diet for 15 days to gain a different view on agriculture.

Thank you Taylor for the work you do and good luck with your vegetarian adventure!
Be sure to follow her blog!

You could be the NEXT feature!! E-mail us at today to learn more!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Greg Lemke - Arkansas Cattle Producer

Today we welcome a post from Jeralyn Stephens of the Beefmasters Breeders United. She has shared with us the story of Greg Lemke a cattle producer from Arkansas. 

Greg Lemke of Gentry, Ark., always had a passion for cattle. However a hog hunting accident in 2007 followed by a layoff as a result of downsizing in Latco in Lincoln, Ark., fine-tuned the passion into a livelihood necessity. Greg found himself wheelchair-bound, out of work and unable to use his engineering design degree but not his intelligence and determination.

Greg has 130 acres on which he runs 50 Beefmaster mommas. Greg is very partial to the Beefmaster breed. Greg said, “I always liked the breed and already had a small cow herd when I was young. Then I talked with a guy who raised Beefmasters. Many years ago we traded my labor for painting his truck for a heifer. Then I bought another and started my Beefmaster herd with two. I have never looked back at that decision.”

According to Greg, Beefmasters are the top momma cows in fertility and milk production with a higher weaning weight. The cows also have good fertility, longevity and can also be successfully bred at 14 to 16 months. Because calf weight can vary from 60 to 80 pounds and because Greg wants to take advantage of the latest refinements in the breed, he pays very careful attention to EPDs (expected progeny differences) and carcass scan data. He scans his cattle and matches them to bulls for his AI breeding program. In addition, he has a particularly good momma cow that he flushes twice a year before breeding her back. He then uses some of those eggs in his cows and freezes the rest for his personal use and for sale.

Greg said, “The Beefmaster Breeders United Executive Vice President Dr. Tommy Perkins, has done amazing work with EPDs and scan data.” Beefmasters are a three-way cross between Hereford, Shorthorn and Brahman. As a result of a strict culling process, and a sever Texas drought, three quarters of the original Lasater herd was sold off. The result was that the remaining animals had a higher fat content in the rump area, which has given them higher fertility and drought tolerance. Later Dr. Perkins began to pay careful attention to the technical data. Now many Beefmasters have higher marbling with enhanced taste and tenderness.

Greg said, “When you’re in the business of selling meat animals, EPDs are far more important than pedigree. You want the highest quality and weight animal with the least amount of expense and intervention. That means careful breeding.” The final critical component in Greg’s breeding program is his cleanup bull. It is the brother to the Grand Champion Bull at the 2012 Beefmaster Breeders United National Futurity. Greg leaves nothing to chance.

While Greg feeds his cattle sweet grain a couple of times a month to keep them docile and comfortable with the corrals, his cattle are mostly grass fed with free-choice minerals that contain high magnesium in the spring to offset Fescue poisoning and high potassium one month before breeding. Because of his heavy dependence upon grazing, Greg pays as much attention to his land as he does his cattle. He hays about 40 acres of mixed grass. The drought over the last two years caused a loss of 80 percent of his forage with the dominant survival species being Bermuda. One of the reasons Greg was able to survive the drought was being able to send most of his herd to Oklahoma on water rich creek-fed land that belonged to the man who originally introduced him to Beefmasters. Nonetheless Greg planned extensive replanting this fall. He explained that the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) recommended fall replanting because more moisture and lower temperatures for a longer period of time promote better and stronger germination.

One of Greg’s choices during replanting was the use of a strain of Fescue called Jessop Max Q. It is entophyte free thus eliminating most of the Fescue toxicity problem. Greg said, “The intent is to bring up the conception and production rates because regular Fescue is hard on cattle.” In addition Greg mixed clover seed with his fertilizer this year to add nitrogen which for better grass growth and because cattle love clover.

Greg said, “I love what I do. I catch myself in the middle of the night thinking about which cows to cull and new ways to optimize my operation and income. Cattle is my passion." Greg's accident has led to two additional changes. Because he needs the extensive, but willing, help of neighbors and friends, he has recently purchased a new cattle chute for better safety, efficiency and ease. He has also started an online business featuring a wide variety of Beefmaster semen. The business helps fill in a void in the accessibility of those Beefmaster materials.

Thank you Jeralyn for sharing this great feature!!! You can learn more about Beefmaster and cattle producers by checking out the United Beefmaster webpage, and check out their Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Blog!
We need to hear your story! How are you involved in agriculture? To become a feature e-mail Jamie and Elizabeth at

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mackinson Family Dairy Farm

Welcome to Mary Mackinson Faber as she shares with us about her family's dairy farm! 

Hello! My name is Mary (Mackinson) Faber and I am proud of my family’s dairy and grain farm located in Pontiac, Illinois. Where is Pontiac? Pontiac is in Central Illinois about 100 miles south of Chicago on Interstate 55. If you are ever traveling Interstate 55, it cuts our farm in half at mile-marker 203. You can call it living in the country but Interstate 55 and Historic Route 66 are the north and east borders to our home farm. We also have an airport and railroad tracks within 5 miles of our farm.

We cannot talk about where we are today without going to back to how Mackinson Dairy Farm (MDF) was started. MDF began over 100 years ago with a handful of cows and 161 acres. My great-great grandfather Daniel Mackinson was the original owner of our farm. Today our family continues to live and farm those same acres plus about 2,000 more. The dairy has grown to include about 165 milking cows and over 140 head of heifers and calves. We are proud to own a great herd of Holsteins, Ayrshires and one Brown Swiss! In addition to our cows we milk another’s family’s small herd of Milking Shorthorn. 

The farming operation is owned by my parents, (Donald & Rita) my uncle (Roy) and my brother (Matt). Donald and Roy are great-grandsons of Daniel, the original owner. I am confident to say that farming is all my Father, Uncle and Brother have wanted to do and they truly have a strong passion for the soil and cows. I am the oldest of three children. While I don’t work on the farm full-time, I am still actively involved. My husband, Jesse and I are proud parent’s of a one-year-old daughter. I work as the controller of a local cooperative that provides farmers in our area with feed, crop inputs and is a grain storage facility. Jesse is from a beef and grain farm and one of the agriculture teachers and FFA advisors at our high school. Matt is the middle child. He married Amy almost one year ago and she is a Registered Nurse and is also from a swine and grain farm. David is the youngest and lives with his partner Pato in Santiago, Chile. David is an economist and recently graduated with his Master’s in economics and Pato works as a family court clerk. We also have two employees. Dan Jones has been with us full-time for over three years and is getting married to Mallory this fall. Aaron Jenson started working for us last fall and just graduated from high school and is starting at the local community college this fall. Both are great assets to our operation!

Rita, Pato, Grandma Theresa, David, Matt holding Ava, Mary, Amy, Jesse, Donald
We milk our cows 2x a day (4:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) every day in a double 6 parlor. The parlor was constructed in 1975 and remodeled in 2001. Our milk is picked up every other day and goes to the fluid milk bottling plant in Peoria, IL. We are proud members of the cooperative, Prairie Farms Dairy. The cows and heifers (older than 6 months) are fed a total mixed ration (TMR). TMR means we mix and blend a certain number of pounds of corn silage, haylage, soybean meal, corn gluten and other necessary minerals together. The milk cow ration consists of 11,600 pounds of feed! Our TMR is just like your Kitchenaid mixer but much bigger! The heifers are grouped according to age. In 2011 we constructed a new heifer barn which has 4 separate areas that can house 70-90 heifers depending on age. In the summer, we are able to utilize some pasture for the heifers, dry cows and milking herd. We have two free stall barns (almost 16,000 square feet) so the cows have a choice of where they choose to spend their time. The newer freestyle barn utilizes sand bedding. Yes, it’s just like the beach and the cows enjoy putting their hooves in the sand. 

Our crop rotation is corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. We do grow a majority of the crops we feed our cows, the only exception would be the soybean meal and additional vitamins and minerals which we purchase. The excess grain is sold to grain storage facilities and is either moved via rail, barge or turned into ethanol. We try to utilizing minimum tillage and no-till on the highly erodible soil. Cover crops have also been implemented into the rotation. In the fall of 2011, we built a manure storage facility that is adjacent to the dairy. This storage facility holds 2.8 million gallons of manure which is applied to our fields in the fall. On a beautiful summer day it is not uncommon to find us baling hay, scouting fields, maintaining equipment or other jobs that require our attention. 

Donald, Matt and Roy
I asked my brother what is a typical day consists of and he laughs and says that every day is different. I will try to offer a glimpse into what we routinely do daily. Milking the cows, feeding animals (calves, heifers and cows), and cleaning the parlor and barns must be done every morning and night. Matt takes responsibility of the mating choices for the cows. A majority of the cows are bred through artificial insemination but we do have a bull if that is necessary. Heifers are bred for feet and legs, the first time around 14 months. All calves are house in individual calf hutches and are vaccinated twice and receive semi-annual boosters. MDF currently works closely with 3 veterinarians and a nutritionist to keep our cows healthy and comfortable. We are currently utilizing embryo transfer with a few of our top cows. Growing up, we showed our cows through 4-H and today are still competing at a few shows. You might see a few of our animals at the Illinois State Fair, All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, PA, World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI or the North American Livestock Expo in Louisville, KY. 

My Dad, Uncle, Matt and Dan put in a lot of hours every day from sun rise to sun set. Never once have I heard them complain (too much) because they are all doing a job that they love. We are committed to providing the consumer with a safe, high-quality milk and products. Our commitment to quality means taking good care of our cows and the land. Thank you to Faces of Agriculture for asking us to tell our story on your blog. If you are ever in Central Illinois, we would love to meet you and show you our farm. I encourage you to find us on social media - Facebook or on Twitter.

Thanks Mary for the look inside your dairy! Be sure to check Mackinson Dairy out on Facebook and follow Mary on Twitter! 

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