New at Illinois State Fair: Ag Tour

Top pop and country entertainers, carnival rides and games, and deep-fried Oreos or Snickers are some of the mainstays of the Illinois State Fair. The main purpose of the fair, however, is to celebrate the agricultural community. Farmers and 4-H members enter animals and foods raised on the farm in competition, while home cooks compete with jellies, cakes and pickles. In 2015 the Illinois State Fair has introduced an Ag Tour to the fair agenda, which gives non-farm visitors an inside view of Illinois’ agriculture industry.

The tour takes you, via an antique tractor-pulled wagon, to various areas of the fairgrounds as college interns explain the different aspects of agriculture. Our tour was hosted by Ellie and Amy, who both grew up on farms and are majoring in agriculture-related studies.

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Our first stop on the tour was at the Dairy Barn. Morgan, a fourth-generation dairy farmer and summer intern with the Midwest Dairy Association, hopped on board the wagon to tell us a little bit about the dairy industry.

A stop at the dairy barnSome interesting facts she shared are:

  • A calf weighs about 100 pounds when born.
  • The calf is taken away from its mother as soon as possible for the safety of both the calf and the mother. The mother, who weighs 1200 to 1500 pounds can accidentally injure the calf. If the calf is dirty and tries to nurse, foreign objects like sand or straw can get into the mother’s mammary system and cause problems.
  • Calves are fed its mother’s milk for three days, which contains a natural antibiotic. After that a textured feed is introduced to them. The feed contains molasses, corn and oats and other nutritional ingredients. When they are born, one compartment of the ruminant stomach isn’t developed, so they can’t digest the forages that are fed to full-grown cows. The meal changes as they age and their stomachs develop.
  • Once the cows join the milking herd they are served a total mix ration. Morgan compared it to cookie dough, where everything is mixed in a bowl, making it difficult for the cows to sort out and eat only the parts they like best. The mix ensures they get all the proper nutrients.
  • Cows are usually milked two or three times a day. However, some farms milk them even more frequently.
  • By volume, Holstein cows produce the most milk. Jersey cows produce milk with the highest butterfat content, good for making cheese.

Our next stop was the Piglets on Parade exhibit. Ellie and Amy filled us in on a few pig facts on our way to the exhibit, and Morgan, the Illinois pork intern, provided even more pig information.

Ellie and Morganpiglets

  • Pigs don’t sweat. They roll around in mud to keep cool.
  • The pigs are kept in farrowing crates, which are specially designed for moms to keep comfortable in labor and after the babies are born. It also prevents the mom from rolling over onto the piglets.
  • A pig’s gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days.
  • The piglets are taken away from their mother after three weeks and kept with their siblings and other pigs of the same size and age. They progressively go into different pens as they grow.
  • Market weight of a pic is 250 to 270 pounds.

Before we left the area we learned about the Farmer’s Little Helper exhibit that teaches children about the two types of grain grown in Illinois: corn and soybeans. Small patches of each grain were planted by the director of agriculture with the help of local school children. An “ag-tivity” tent is filled with activities for young children, including games, story time and equipment that shows how dirty one’s hands are.

Ag-tivity TentThe tour took us next to the horse racing barns, and specifically to the Giberson Racing barns where we met some of the Giberson family, including trainer Nick Giberson. The Giberson horses are kept at the fairgrounds year-round.

GibersonHorse facts:

  • Horses have been domesticated for 5,000 years and have been used for racing since 648 B.C.
  • Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal.
  • Race horses can be considered athletes. They practice 365 days a year.
  • Horses can run up to 27 miles per hour, but the fastest horse has been tracked at 55 miles per hour.

Our last stop was the FFA (Future Farmers of America) barnyard, a temporary home of baby animals. The FFA has been part of many Illinois high schools since 1929 and is an integral part of exposing students to agriculture. The organization also helps develop students’ leadership skills. The FFA isn’t just for future farmers, but for anyone thinking about a career in agriculture related fields, including environmental engineer, conservation police, landscape designer and nutritionist.

goatssheepEllie and Amy chatted about other farm animals, like goats, sheep, rabbits and poultry as we were riding from stop to stop. (Did you know that rabbits can breathe only through their noses, not their mouths?) Although we thought we knew quite a bit about agriculture, we learned even more on the tour.

The Ag Tour runs twice a day through Saturday, August 22. The tour is free, but you must register at the Illinois Department of Agriculture Tent since space is limited. Visit the Illinois State Fair web site for times and complete fair details.

Disclosure: Our visit to Springfield was hosted by the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. We received complimentary accommodations at the Quality Inn & Suites and a meal from the Illinois Pork Producers Association, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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17 thoughts on “New at Illinois State Fair: Ag Tour

  • August 20, 2015 at 1:26 am
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    Seems that you’ve learned a lot from this fair. I love the little piglets, but breastfeeding them for only 3 days seems a little too little. If humans didn’t intervene, probably the mother would feed them much longer. Very interesting stuff.

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    • August 21, 2015 at 11:29 am
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      We did learn a lot on the ag tour and had a lot of fun at the fair, too. One of the things I’ve learned when I’ve toured farms is that although it may seem to us that some things that are done on farms don’t seem right, they are done for other than financial or convenience reasons. It’s often done in the animals’ best interest.

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  • August 21, 2015 at 11:58 pm
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    Interesting stuff. I grew up in the country but not on a farm so a lot of the agriculture stuff is foreign to me. My college had one of the largest agriculture majors in the area, and we had our on dairy which made cheese and the best ice cream around. I wish we had state fairs like this where I live.

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:19 pm
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      Nice that you were able to reap the benefits of the on-campus dairy without having to milk the cows or make the cheese and ice cream yourself. Sounds delicious. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to a state fair. I’d like to experience a different one every year now. It was a lot of fun.

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  • August 22, 2015 at 7:30 pm
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    Seems like you had a nice time and learned a lot of new things. Were the farmers at the fair independent farmers from the area or big corporations?

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:20 pm
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      I think there were a few larger companies but mostly independent farmers.

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  • August 22, 2015 at 9:59 pm
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    This a great list of facts; actually, I’m surprised at how long horses have been domesticated for. I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised but it’s kinda cool to get the stats. Seems like a great way to spend a day out on a nice day.

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:21 pm
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      I was surprised, too, at how long horses have been domesticated. I’m glad we took the tour. We learned a lot and got off of our feet for a while.

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  • August 23, 2015 at 3:01 pm
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    What a great way to learn about local agricultural life! And how cute are all those animals? I love going to visit the local farm near where I live just to see the little pigs, goats, sheep and alpacas 🙂

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:27 pm
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      Baby animals are always so cute.

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  • August 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm
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    Cute piglets! It sounds like you learn a lot as well as enjoying music and all the fun of a fair. Its good to highlight that the main reason is to teach about farming and support agriculture. I actually never knew that. I’ve read other posts about the state fair and it was more about the entertainment. Great information here and brilliant photos

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:31 pm
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      The fair is such a big mix of things, from top-name entertainment to judging the best pickles. And food, lots of food. The variety is one of the best things about it.

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  • August 24, 2015 at 10:23 am
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    OMG… love the photos – I would go just to see the piglets. How cute are they!

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    • August 27, 2015 at 8:31 pm
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      The piglets really are adorable.

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  • August 28, 2015 at 8:36 am
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    We live within a day trip to Springfield and have never been to the State Fair. I need to put that on our radar for next year. Thanks for sharing.

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  • September 7, 2015 at 7:57 am
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    4-H fairs can be a lot of fun, especially for the kids who don’t have much contact with farms – it teaches them where their food comes from! The attractions, rides, and food are an added benefit!

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    • September 9, 2015 at 8:36 pm
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      I agree. I remember when my kids little and we were visiting a relative who had chickens. The kids wouldn’t eat the eggs from the chickens. They wanted the kind that come from a grocery store. LOL

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