MAPLE PARK, Ill. — Ultrasound technology is utilized at
Larson Farms to determine the optimum date for sending cattle to market.
“We’re looking at the amount of backfat and marbling of the
animal,” explained Mike Martz, one of the partners at Larson Farms, a family
farm operation that includes a feedlot which sends about 8,000 cattle to market
each year. “Some people call the marbling ‘flecks of flavor’ because the more
that’s there the better tasting and more enjoyable that steak will be.”
Martz talked about the farm during a tour for a group of Illinois Farm Families field moms.
“I commend you for
coming out and seeing how your food is produced,” he said. “My goal at the end
of the day is for you to be more comfortable with what you’re eating and
purchasing and maybe we can stretch your food dollars a little further.”
The moms saw a
demonstration of the ultrasound equipment in the cattle processing facility at
“Bert lays a
transducer on the animal, and it sends sound waves through the animal, which
come back different from lean and fat,” Martz explained. “We do the ultrasound
100 days before harvest and divide the animals by how much longer we need to
feed them to their most profitable point.”
As the field moms walked around the farm to see the various
cattle buildings, Martz noted the lack of flies.
“We have an employee in charge of fly control, and a couple of
years ago we started using these wasps that are shipped here from Texas every week,” he
said. “We put the wasps out along the bunks in the barns, and each wasp will
eat from 30 to 45 fly larvae.”
As a result, the fly population is controlled without the use of
“The secret is we have to start in April,” added his wife, Lynn
Martz. “We have to be ahead of the hatch and continue to put out the wasps
Rubber mats have been added to the slats of the beef barns at the
“The mats were cut to match our slats, and they are for cattle
comfort and for cattle performance,” the cattleman said.
In addition, one of the barns now has curtains on the north side
that can be raised and lowered depending on the weather.
“We tore the walls out this summer, put the curtains in and that
made it a better barn for air flow,” Martz noted. “When you come here two or
three years from now, all these barns will have curtains on them.”
Martz told the field moms that antibiotics are given to cattle
that get sick on the farm.
“Antibiotics have different withdrawal periods, and we go two
weeks beyond the withdrawal period before we will send that animal to market,”
he said. “I would be concerned if I sold an animal with antibiotics because I’m
buying the same food as you are, so I’m not going to risk that for my family.”
“It’s not like Larson Farms has a secret stash of food,” he
Growth promotants also are given to the cattle.
“We put a pellet under the skin of the ear, and it dissolves as
the animal matures,” Martz explained. “This helps the animal make better efficiency
of the feed.”
A 3-ounce steak from an animal that was never given a growth
hormone will contain 1.4 nanograms of estrogen, Martz told the field moms.
“A 3-ounce steak from animals that came from my facility that had
an implant will contain 1.9 nanograms of estrogen,” he added. “And a baked
potato contains 225 nanograms of estrogen.”
Therefore, he said, “in my mind, using growth promotants is not
“It’s all about choices, but you need to know the information,” he
stressed. “I don’t have any problem with my grandkids eating our beef.”
Three generations of
the family are involved in Larson Farms. The operation includes Ray and his
wife, Carol; their son, David; their son, Norm, and his wife, Barb; their
daughter, Lynn, and her husband, Mike Martz, as well as Martz’s son, Justin
The family also farms
about 6,500 acres, where they grow corn, soybeans and wheat.
“We take the manure
from the cattle and inject it into the ground, which is needed for the crops,”
Martz explained. “Lynn
sells the corn crop to the ethanol plant, and then I buy byproducts from the
ethanol plant to feed the cattle, so it’s a full cycle.”
Although Larson Farms
may be viewed as large, Martz noted that in addition to supporting several
Larson families, they also have several employees that are supported by the
“We’re a whole lot
more efficient being together than being apart because we are using the same
equipment,” he said.
In the cornfield, the
field moms took a ride in a combine, where they saw how the yield monitors
tracked the harvest, as well as how GPS systems are used in these machines.
“We want all the
residue coming out of the back of the combine evenly distributed across the
field because there are nutrients in the stalks,” Lynn Martz said.
Soil tests are taken
on all the fields every three years to monitor the pH of the soil, as well as
the levels of nutrients.
“The pH is important
because if the pH is off, the fertilizer won’t work well,” she told the field
Katie Grossart, a mom
of three kids from Riverside,
has participated in three of the farm tours this year.
“I joined this program
because I knew nothing at all about farming, and I wanted to get the
information directly from people who make a living from farming,” she said. “I
would be nervous every day if I was a farmer because I wouldn’t know how much
money I have until the end of the year.”
“I loved the combine
ride. It is amazing what the farmers learn from the monitors,” she added. “I
could watch these combines all day. It is mesmerizing.”
“This is the first time
I’ve been in a combine. The technology they have is amazing,” said Amy
Buffardi, a mom of two kids from Darien.
“The monitor showed the moisture of the corn, and the two combines can talk to
“I didn’t know that
sweet corn and field corn were two different things,” said Helen Kolodynski, a
mom of three daughters from Chicago.
“This has been a very eye-opening, educational experience. I have never seen
corn so tall.”
Illinois Farm Families
is supported by the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Pork Producers
Association, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, the Illinois Soybean
Association, the Illinois Beef Association and the Midwest Dairy Association.
For more information
on the Illinois Farm Families program, visit www.watchusgrow.org.