I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a family whose roots run deeper in Illinois agriculture than the Andras family. Maybe the Defenbaughs. It's a little hard to say.
Regardless, the Andras ancestors settled in the 1830s in an area of west-central Illinois known as Burnt Haystacks Springs, named for the stacks of hay that settlers would leave each season for the new settlers to use through the winter, as the previous group headed on west. The local Indians tended to express their feelings for the settlers by burning the stacks. Thus…Burnt Haystacks Springs. By 1837, John Cennick Andras helped incorporate the town and named it for his native Manchester, England. Will is, effectively, the sixth generation in the town.
It gets better, though. The family started in the beef cattle business sometime in the 1800s, but bought their first purebred Herefords in 1898. By the 1920s, they were showing national champions and various other winners at shows all over the country – Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth and Denver. They even travelled by rail; the railroad company would drop a car in Manchester and they'd load up cattle, tack, feed and more and head out across the countryside to the next show, with the guys riding along in the railcar with the cattle.
As someone who's spent a fair amount of time loading said items into a livestock trailer to head to a show, I can say unequivocally, HOW COOL IS THAT? A train. For real.
Today, the family traffics in the Red Angus business, having departed slightly from Herefords when Will was a boy. Their goal, he says, is to "produce genetics that ensure the profitability of our commercial customers, which will ensure our profitability."
Will and his lovely wife, Kim, are parents to Peri, 7, and Peyton, 4. They farm with Will's parents, Steven and Theresa. The Andrases raise some corn for silage but rented out most of their crop ground a few years back, focusing instead on the cattle operation. They hold an annual female sale on the first Saturday in November (why yes, they have been busy lately!) and a bull sale the first Saturday in April.
Will remains concerned that pasture availability will, in time, limit their operation. "We rent several pastures from an aging generation who simply enjoy seeing cattle graze on their property. This joy is not necessarily shared by their heirs, who may or may not keep the fences in place once this generation passes.
"Once fences are removed and sod is turned, our pasture ground will be lost. This is inevitable in the day of the ever-increasing land values for crop production."
The first time I met Will, he was emceeing the Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader awards banquet. I should note, this is not an easy gig (John did it once, too) but Will handled it effortlessly. His prayer stood out in particular. He didn't make a speech or use notes. He just stood up there and talked to the Lord. It was genuine and heartfelt, and I am not surprised to see their profession of faith on their farm website and even mentioned by their customers.
I think in some ways, it is less difficult for farmers to integrate their faith with their business, after all, their business is entirely intertwined with their life and their family with their business. It's a circle, and faith is just part of it.
I spoke with a farm wife once who pointed out that it's by faith that we put seed in the ground every year and expect to grow a crop off of it. What kind of crazy people would we be if didn't have faith? Faith that the crop will grow, that the calves will live, that next year will be better. And if it isn't, maybe the year after that.
This is one of the things that strikes non-farm visitors when they come to our farms. Our passion, our drive to do our best. And our pragmatism. Like the advice of Will – ever the cattleman – to any visitor on his farm: "Wipe your shoes before you get in your car!"
Well, yes. Good advice.
30 Days of Farm & Families
Day 1: The Webels
Day 2: The Mies Family
Day 3: The Thomases
Day 4: The Stewarts
Day 5: The Weavers
Day 6: The Hawkinsons
Day 7: The Kortes
Day 8: The Walters
Day 9: The Schillings
Day 10: The Martins
Day 11: The Pratts
Day 12: The Bowmans
Day 13: The Pollards
Day 14: The Wachtels
Day 15: The Strodes
Day 16: The Buntings