Tricia Braid

Tricia Braid operates a pet cremation business as part of the family farm operation in McLean County, Ill. Other added sources of income include renting pasture land to neighbors.

McLEAN, Ill. — When Tricia Braid wanted to switch to a new job to tighten her connection with the family farm, she thought creatively. Leaving agricultural communications to run a pet cremation business has been a good move for her.

“It is a unique business. I could site it at the farm and build on my family’s legacy,” she said.

Being nearby, she can be helpful to her father, Tom Braid, 70, who grows corn and soybeans in McLean County.

For a decade, Braid was communications director for the Illinois Corn Growers Association. She has also worked with the Illinois Farm Bureau, was a farm writer and broadcaster, all while keeping a strong connection to her family farm.

“So many things I learned help me now as a small business owner,” she said.

Farm compatibility

“When I first introduced the idea to my dad, he was not particularly sold on the notion,” Baird said.

Her father was worried about her leaving a reliable job to run a pet cremation business. But that changed when she presented him with the data and business plan for Cherished Like Family.

The new building is a stone’s throw from the house she grew up in, and her dad has been a good adviser in its construction.

“I’m enjoying the opportunity of engaging with my dad in business,” she said.

He was the one who suggested a building instead of an outdoor crematory as she had planned to cut costs.

Her brother, Buck Braid, who works for Growmark, is also keen on working on the farm in the future. The two families would need income streams other than corn and soybeans to have a profitable enterprise.

“We both have intentions of farming,” she said, noting that they don’t want to hurry their father into retirement but want to have established supportive businesses that allow them to ease into farming when the opportunity comes.

They are considering other value-added options, including pasture chickens and growing hemp for CBD oil. They just added two bee hives and rent pasture to a neighbor for his calves and cows.

“I’m persistent in my interest to be more engaged,” Braid said.

Braid, who lives in LeRoy with her husband and two youngest children, ages 4 and 6, wants to raise them with farm experiences her two older children had.

“My older boys helped with planting and harvest,” she said.

Meeting a need

In her research to find a farm-friendly business, Braid discovered the pet business brings in $78 billion a year in the U.S., and it is growing.

A friend initially connected her with the owners of Christianson’s Companion Cremations in Waynesville, Illinois. She took ownership of the business in January with the new name Cherished Like Family.

She respects the family’s relationship with their companion animals which have included cats, dogs, a hedgehog, goats, horses, alpacas, llamas and two rats. Braid makes a point to know the name of the horse or family pet.

She recalls thinking it was a bit odd for a family to cremate a hedgehog until she returned the pet to the family. She learned they had chosen this pet instead of a cat or dog because of the children’s dander allergies.

She usually accepts two to three horses a week and about 2,000 small animals for cremation per year.

Since March with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic here, she has noticed a slight decrease in the number of animals at vet offices in the seven towns she serves in central Illinois. There are more private calls as some people may change end-of-life decisions for their pets when they are working from home.

She offers three levels of cremation services. Communal is where many animals share the chamber, semi-private when animals are not alone but are segregated in the unit, and a private cremation. People can choose to have their pet’s ashes returned in private and semi-private options. Communal ashes, by law, are taken to an accepted landfill site.

At this time when some farmers must dispose of animals, she has been asked if she could help. But she said “it doesn’t make economic sense” for the farmer. Cremation for a horse is about $500 depending on weight and size.

There are few such businesses serving horse owners in Illinois, especially outside the Chicago area. She works within a 150-mile radius to serve them.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.