Work & Play
A young Illinois couple grows their herd and their family.
My husband, Brady, and I have always had a mutual love for agriculture. I followed that love to college, where I studied agriculture education, and then to our 40-acre farm in Shelby County, Illinois, which we bought shortly before we got married in 2014. We welcomed our first child, Ada, in October 2017. We now have 12 black Angus, red Angus and Hereford beef cattle we use in a cow-calf breeding operation. We also have a Duroc/Chester White boar and three Yorkshire sows that we breed and farrow for my nieces and nephews to show at the county fair and to sell as market hogs. Our two miniature donkeys, Mr. Jack and Miss Jenny, serve both as pets and as guardian animals. Finally, we have Bo, our 2-year-old golden retriever. I can’t wait to buy Ada a bottle-fed calf to raise, but that might need to wait a few years. When we aren’t working on the farm we are at our full-time jobs— also in agriculture. Brady works for a family-owned ag retail company, where he sells fertilizer, seed and chemicals. He also does custom applications of anhydrous ammonia and sprays herbicides during the busy season. I teach high-school agriculture and am the National FFA Organization advisor in nearby Shelbyville. I’m also involved with the county 4-H fair and serve on the board.
MONDAY Brady’s been working long hours seven days a week. We got so much rain in late April and early May that most of the region’s corn and soybean fields now have to be replanted, so Brady is busy with spraying. I am just starting summer break, doing housework and farm chores. Today Bo and I went to my parents’ farm, and I picked cherries with my mom. Once home, Bo and I checked on the cattle, fed the pigs and donkeys, and then took Brady supper and went on a walk. My family gives me a hard time, but I love to take Bo with me whenever I can. He really is a part of our family.
TUESDAY About 35 acres of our farm are pasture. Last summer we built a quarter-mile-long barbed wire fence down the center so we could implement a new rotational grazing system. We recently turned the cows onto the south side of the pasture, which has several trees, many steep hills and a natural spring. The north
side has some rolling hills but very few trees. Most south-pasture days, we’ll find the cows contentedly wading in the spring. They’re a bit stubborn, though. They don’t want to leave the cool water to make the trek up to the feedlot.
WEDNESDAY Today I took 11 students to the Illinois FFA convention in Springfield, where we listened to keynote speakers, went to a career show and did some planning for the coming year. Our chapter was recognized with the Bronze Emblem National Chapter Award. Four of our students walked across the stage to receive their state FFA degree, the highest honor in the program.
THURSDAY I worked at the 4-H extension office on entries and getting things ready for the 4-H fair. When I got home, Brady told me that a new bull calf had been born. In two years of breeding, about 75 percent of our calf crop has been bulls. They’re great for the bank account, as we typically band them and sell them as steers at the sale barn in the fall. But bull calves are not as ideal when you’re trying to grow your herd. I don’t want to complain, though, since a healthy calf is better than no calf at all.
FRIDAY My mom came over this morning, and we made fruit pies to put in the freezer. All of the cherries, apples, rhubarb, peaches and blackberries were picked on our farms or neighboring farms. It may take time to pick and freeze the fruit, but the ingredients are cheap—and they sure make good pies. I like to keep homemade pies in the freezer for cookouts or family suppers. We also can and freeze as much produce as possible each summer: sweet corn, tomato juice, zucchini, pickles, green beans and apple pie filling. My family gets together to make big batches for all of us. It’s one of the many things I appreciate learning from my mom and dad. Not many of my friends know much about food preservation. It seems it’s becoming a lost art.
SATURDAY My dad, my two brothers and Brady and I all raise cattle. We each have our own small hayfields, waterways and patches of grass hay and alfalfa. We share the hay equipment and help one another bale hay. While Brady and I don’t own any of the hay equipment yet, I contribute labor, and in exchange we get round bales to feed our cows through the winter. I love haying season. We had a bit of a setback today, though. The fuse on the baler monitor fell out, and everything came to a standstill. We robbed a fuse from the other tractor and made do until the end of the day.
SUNDAY Brady had the day off. We went to Sunday school, which he teaches, and church, and then to my family’s annual reunion—a potluck, of course. Later we went and visited with Brady’s family. When we got home, we saw that two of our sows had rooted under the hog panels and escaped their pen. The pigpen is surrounded by a larger pen for the donkeys and weaning calves, so the pigs didn’t get very far. We drove some t-posts and rewired the panels, and the pigs followed me into the pen like dogs. It was an easy fix! Brady’s long days at work are, hopefully, reaching an end, and we’re looking forward to tackling our summer to-do lists. Thank you for reading—we enjoyed sharing!
After a busy day spraying others’ cornfields, Brady Black takes time to feed the cattle on his own farm.
The Blacks’ red and black Angus cattle have made their way out of the pasture for dinner.