Mike Martz (right) shows the Illinois Farm Families field moms the wasps he uses at his cattle feedyard to control flies. The wasps are shipped from Texas every week to the northern Illinois operation, and they are spread in the barns. Each wasp will eat from 30 to 45 of the fly larvae, eliminating the need to use chemicals for fly control.
Mike Martz (right) shows the Illinois Farm Families field moms the wasps he uses at his cattle feedyard to control flies. The wasps are shipped from Texas every week to the northern Illinois operation, and they are spread in the barns. Each wasp will eat from 30 to 45 of the fly larvae, eliminating the need to use chemicals for fly control.
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 the farm.

“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 any chemicals.

“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 every week.”

Rubber mats have been added to the slats of the beef barns at the farm.

“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 added.

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 an issue.”

“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 Martz.

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 operation.

“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 moms.

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 each other.”

“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.