April 14, 2024

A Year in the Life of a Farmer: Rahn family operates diversified centennial farm

Annette Rahn checks on the cow and calf that was born earlier in the day on the family’s Carroll County farm. The Sim/Angus herd is part of the centennial operation that includes corn, soybean and wheat acres, as well as hay production and cattle feedlots.

AgriNews will follow the Rahn family throughout the entire year. Each month, look for updates about the farmers and the decisions they make on their farm.

MOUNT CARROLL, Ill. — The Rahn family operates a centennial farm in northern Illinois that includes row crops, hay production, cattle feeding and a cow-calf herd.

“We’ve been here six generations,” said Elmer Rahn about the farm that was started in 1864 with 90 acres.

Elmer began his farming career while he was a sophomore in high school, with 250 acres that was a result of a local farmer that wanted to help a young farmer get started.

“I got married two years after finishing high school to Annette and continued farming by cooperating with machinery and labor with my parents and I had my own operation,” he said.

“Our family bought and fed feeder cattle, but Annette grew up on a dairy farm and she didn’t know about this feeding cattle stuff,” Elmer said. “She wanted to marry a dairy farmer and she reminded me a lot of that when we were dating.”

“My dad said there’s more than one way to milk a cow, so we compromised and got a cow-calf herd,” Annette said. “We have a 50 head Sim/Angus cross herd.”

The Rahns are parents to five children and two of their sons and families have joined the operation in Carroll County.

Correy and Kellie Rahn are the parents of Austin, Emilie, Adalynn and Anthony. Mitchel and Samantha Rahn have a daughter, Emmerson.

The family also includes Justin and Ellen Rahn and their son, Evan; Rachel and Timothy Keil and their children, Wyatt and Olivia; and Darrin Rahn and Romelle Morris.

The row-crop acres of the farm are divided to about one-third soybeans and two-thirds corn.

“We raise alfalfa and grass hay to feed our cattle and also to sell,” Elmer said. “And we grow some wheat so we can haul manure in the summer and we sell big square bales of straw.”

Fields for wheat production are chosen based on the ones that need improvements to increase fertility or a project that will help with drainage.

“We plant 50 to 100 acres of wheat each year and then during July and August when we get a lull in fieldwork we have the opportunity to do our own tiling,” Correy said. “GPS technology allows us to do that and drainage is huge because we’ve had our fair share of wet parts of the year.”

However, this year the conditions are very dry on the Rahn farm.

“Our tiles are empty and we are probably as dry as it’s ever been for this time of the year,” Elmer said. “But hopefully we’ll get some spring rains.”

“This year we got about 12 inches of snow during the second week of January and it was gone in about 10 days after that,” Correy said.

“For rain that is equivalent of only one to two inches for all winter,” Elmer added. “This is the first year we’ve ever been able to put anhydrous on in February.”

“We’ve got about a week’s work of anhydrous to put on and we’ll be done next week,” Correy said on Feb. 29. “The window closed to apply in the fall because the ground froze.”

“And there’s places in the fall we leave so we can haul manure,” Elmer said. “So, we disk that ground in the spring and put anhydrous on.”

The family members help each other with daily work on the farm and they all can do each task, but they each have some areas of specialty.

“Correy likes dealing with steel and I like lumber,” Mitchel said.

“Correy enjoys a challenge when repairing machinery,” Kellie added.

“Mitchel services the planter, combine and takes care of the grain cart,” Correy said. “I stay towards the shop in the fall and grain setup and dad does the planting and combining.”

All of them help with the hay production.

“The hay takes many bodies and we all help with the livestock,” Correy said about the family’s three feedlot locations.

“The ladies make the meals and anyone helping in the evenings gets a hot meal,” he stressed. “It’s a long day and they eat out of a lunchbox during the day so at the end of the day it’s nice to get a hot plate.”

In addition to the family members, the operation includes two full-time people and several part time people that work seasonally.

“We couldn’t get everything done if we didn’t have the quality of help — it’s a great asset,” Elmer said.

In August 2010, Kellie started as a Pioneer sales representative.

“I started with Pioneer out of college as an agronomist trainee and worked at two production plants just short of three years,” she said. “I loved what I did and I figured I do that for the rest of my life and then I got a chance to become a sales rep.”

The business started in the garage with 16 pallets. As the business grew, it was moved to different sheds on the farm and in 2015-2016, a new facility was built that includes office space and a bulk bin site.

“Seed sales are probably about 60% bulk and 40% bags,” Kellie said.

“We’ve raised our kids to be part of the business so they help put zip ties on labels and with goodie bags and Christmas bags for our customers,” she said.

“In the summer, our kids go to the fields with us to do crop scouting, leaf tissue testing, weed identification and to look for insects and diseases so they can recognize tar spot,” Correy said. “They help grandma with the calves and she teaches them how to tell when a cow is close to calving.”

The family sells sweet corn during the summer.

“Last year we were up to about one acre and the kids help with the planting and selling the corn at a roadside stand,” Correy said. “They picked corn almost every day last year for about five weeks and that money goes to their college fund.”

For more many years, the Rahns have sold a few head of cattle from their farm as freezer beef to area customers as quarters, halves or a whole animal.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Annette was at Walmart and saw empty meat shelves.

“I thought this can’t be happening,” she said.

“The food chain was messed up, but we still had plenty of meat,” Elmer said.

As a result, Rahn Meats has grown to selling 20 to 24 steers a year. The family has two options close to their farm for processing cattle at Carroll County Locker Company in Lanark and Johnson Processing Plant in Chadwick.

“Our steaks are cut 1 to 1.25 inches thick — you don’t get that in a grocery store,” Annette said.

Now Rahn Meats offers various bundle packages to their customers such as two packages of steaks and five pounds of hamburger.

“We put the chuck and round in the ground beef so it’s really more of a ground steak than ground hamburger,” Elmer said. “Nobody can compete with Walmart on price, but we can compete with quality because people want a juicy hamburger that tastes good.”

The Rahns’ community involvement includes serving in various church positions, including Sunday school superintendent, Sunday school teacher, youth group leader and as a trustee.

“I met my wife through church,” said Mitchel, who plays drums in the church’s praise band.

Elmer is a member of the Pearl City Elevator board and has served as the group’s president for the last six years. He is also on the Atkins Energy board and served on the school board for 20 years.

The Carroll County Farm Bureau members have been quite active in the Young Leader program and in 1993 Elmer and Annette won the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Young Leader Achievement Award and were honored with the runner-up award at the national level.

In 2020, Correy and Kellie received the state Young Leader Achievement Award.

“It was a very humbling process that teaches you goals,” Correy said.

The Carroll County Farm Bureau Young Leader group organizes many activities and for the past 10 years the members have asked for corn or monetary donations to support the four food pantries in the county.

“That program has raised from $30,000 to $45,000 each year and every dollar donated stays in the county,” Correy said. “The ag community is very supportive of our local towns and the volunteers at the pantries get emotional when we present the checks.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor