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.
Don’t miss a Midwest Wanderer post. For a FREE subscription, enter your e-mail address in the Subscribe2 box to the right and click Subscribe.
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 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.
- 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.
The 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.
- 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.
Ellie 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.
Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm. – Connie