Northwestern Illinois was the destination for Wednesday’s field trips. The first stop of the day was Pearl Valley Eggs, a laying hen operation with well over a million birds. Before any of us could go to Pearl Valley Eggs, we had to sign a waiver stating that none of us had been around other types of poultry within the last few weeks. Their number one priority was the safety of the birds and of their operation. No photos or video was permitted in the facility as well in another effort to protect their business.
Covered head to toe in white suits, the teachers first witnessed Pearl Valley Eggs’ compost business which stemmed directly from the manure of their laying hens. Everyone was fascinated by the sheer amount of chicken manure there was – buildings of it – and that it could be sold. They then saw the laying hen barns where tens of thousands of eggs are laid each day. Some of the educators were a little uneasy at first at the sight of millions of birds within inches of each other. However, one of them noticed, “They all look very healthy and content.” And that was true, all of the birds were seemingly content and were clean and healthy. They only seem distressed when a stranger approached them closely. The extreme care taken with the birds was eye-opening for those who had originally thought these “bird-hotels” were cruel because of the close confines.
Next, they traveled to Willowbrook Farms owned and operated by Karl Lawfer. It was a huge contrast to Pearl Valley’s facility – Karl owns a few hundred acres and farms it on his own with the help of his family. The group learned about different farm-related tools, and listened to Karl’s take on his soybean operation and family farming. He mostly talked about what it was like to raise a family on a farm, which gave the teacher’s a new perspective on their rural students. Karl’s sister, Peggy Harmston, also gave a presentation on her local business, Massbach Ridge Winery, and provided samples of her award-winning wine.
Participants then boarded the bus to travel to the final tour site, Hunter Haven Farms. They saw Doug Block’s herd of Holstein cows whose milk goes entirely toward making Swiss cheese. They loved seeing the calves, and were surprised to know that a few newborns were born each day. Doug showed us Hunter Haven’s methane digester, which converted manure to energy for the farm. Additionally, all of the milking equipment was state of the art and top-notch clean.
What the teachers took away from today’s field trips was that farming is not just about a farmer on his tractor. It’s constantly changing – and it’s more technologically advanced than they originally thought. They took a new perspective on livestock farming in particular, that in order to feed this always-growing world farmers must be efficient and humane.