Prairie Farmer Logo

New app-based cameras in our cattle barn mean our college kids can check cows from across the state. And keep an eye on their parents.

Holly Spangler, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

February 16, 2024

3 Min Read
 A screenshot of a pixelated camera recording with a digital timestamp of two people tending to a cow
PAPPARAZZI: This must be what celebrities feel like. Minus the Carhartts and afterbirth.Nathan Spangler

The other night, a little after 11 p.m., my husband and I stood in the cattle barn. We had a cow trying to calve a backward calf. John tried hard to get the legs back around. No luck. Time to call the vet.

With one hand holding her tail, I used the other to fish his phone out of his coveralls. After we talked to the vet, I happened to look and see the barn camera. So I texted our college kids: “Check the cow cam for a show! Backward calf, vet’s on his way.”

Within minutes, my son texted back a screenshot of us, standing there in the barn on the business end of the cow.

Welcome to 2024!

A new cattle barn last fall meant new barn cameras, which means we can watch the cows from the iPad. It didn’t take long for our two older kids to download the app. And apparently, they tune in a lot! John gets a text now and then, usually with a screenshot. This sort of access has prompted him to reassess his occasional outdoor restroom use.

Remember Roz from “Monsters, Inc.”? “I’m watching you, Wazowski! Always watching. Always.” This is our life.

But what a kick. And a full circle moment. Nearly 20 years ago, I wrote about our first barn camera. We’d pulled a calf in the early morning hours, came back in, and I snuggled with the kids as they woke up — babies and toddlers back then —and we watched the mama cow and her fresh baby, a grainy image on the TV.

Technology — and life — have come a long way since then. The new barn is a 250-foot hoop building, with cameras from Cattle Cams. We got the PTZ cameras, which can point, turn and zoom. They’re so clear you can zoom in and read an ear tag.

Or zoom in and watch your parents pull a calf at midnight.

Best new feature in the magazine

Next month marks a first for the Prairie Farmer Master Farmer program: a dedicated Master Farmer section, tucked right into the middle of the magazine. It’s shiny and new and we love it, and we hope you do, too.

These stories are some of our favorites to tell, but if I’m honest, they’re also the hardest to write. It’s nearly impossible to encapsulate a life’s work in just a couple of pages and somehow do justice to the incredible lives these farmers have led. But we sure try. I hope you’re as inspired as we are by their work and their lives. Watch your mailbox for that one!

Best story I’ve heard lately

My son is in Paul Stoddard’s farm management class at the University of Illinois. In the first week, he told his students to write down the names of three people in their lives who are good listeners. Then he had them raise their hands if at least one person on their list was someone they respect, then again if at least one was someone they love, and finally, if at least one was someone they care about.

“That should tell you something about people who are good listeners,” he told them. “And if you want people to feel that way about you, well, now you know the first step.”

Funniest thing I’ve heard lately

Apparently, ag students at U of I have noticed there’s no good place to get a coffee on the south end of campus, specifically around the ag campus. Do they want a Starbucks? Absolutely not. One student reportedly had a brilliant suggestion: Put a Casey’s in the ACES Library. Just for the breakfast pizza and bad coffee. I’m telling you, these kids are gonna change the world.

Comments? Email [email protected].

Read more about:

Master Farmers

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like