The Dairy Farm Adventures: Farm Raised Children

Posted Tuesday, December 3, 2013 in Features

The Dairy Farm Adventures: Farm Raised Children

by Lee-Rae Jordan Oliver

Several years ago, an acquaintance stopped me on the sidewalk to admire our first-born son, Walker, who I toted on my back in a baby carrier.  She said, “Being a mom is the hardest job you'll ever love.”  At the time I did not fully comprehend what her words meant.  As a new mother to one child, I  floated around in a blissful baby bubble thinking motherhood was a breeze.  After adding two more children to our brood, I'm now fully aware of what those words of wisdom mean. 

Parenthood  has been exhausting and exhilarating, humbling and rewarding, frustrating and comical.  Every day I wonder, “What am I doing wrong?  How can I do it better?”   One thing is certain, raising our children on a dairy farm will help prepare them for life's complicated twists and turns.

Living on a farm teaches children responsibility at a young age.  Our children know our dairy cows and calves need to have food, clean water, and shelter, every day in order to be healthy.  During the summer months, Walker 8,  Anna 7, and Wyatt 4 were responsible for feeding grain, hay, and water to over twenty calves.  Most mornings they exited the door willingly to do their chores, but there were  days when I had to say, “If you want to go swimming at the lake today, you need to go now!”   Expecting them to help with chores for thirty minutes is not too much to ask in the course of a twelve hour day. 

Farming is “get down and dirty” hard work.  Our children understand it takes a team of motivated people to manage a dairy farm operation.   In addition to milking the cows and providing for them, the children watch Matthew and me complete numerous farm related projects throughout the day.  We don't stop moving until our head hits the pillow at night.  In addition, a farmer has to be resourceful and have the perseverance needed to solve problems when something breaks or an animal needs extra care.  One day while Matthew repaired a piece of equipment, Walker said, “Dada needs to be a mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter,  and a veterinarian in order to be a farmer.”  At a young age, Walker recognized his father needed a repertoire of skills to keep the farm running smoothly.   

My favorite moments on the farm are when I hear the children exclaim, “Oohh, that calf is so cute!”  This is followed closely by the children talking softly to the calf, coaxing the curious creature closer so they can stroke its velvety black coat with their small hands.  This unrehearsed response comes straight from their hearts.  Farm life nurtures a compassionate heart, providing many opportunities for our children to be gentle, kind, and caring towards the animals.  Connecting to animals is a healthy way to build their confidence and keep them grounded to the honest simplicity of  the natural world.

Every spring Walker, Anna, and Wyatt help me plant a small family garden.  Throughout the summer and fall months when we're harvesting fresh vegetables, our children know the dinner on their plate comes from our farm or from a local farm.   When we sit down to eat tacos for supper, they've picked the lettuce, green peppers, onions, and tomatoes from our garden, and they know the beef comes from one of our cull cows.  Much of the time the vegetables go directly from the plant into their mouths, never making it to the kitchen for processing.  They're learning how to grow their own food and developing an appetite for fresh, healthy vegetables. 

Our farm provides wide open spaces with ample opportunity to run, roam, and explore.  When the children are home from school, Matthew and I have to continue tending to the farm.  They have two choices:  tag along with us and help with farm chores or entertain themselves.  Naturally they would rather play than work.  So while I'm busy cleaning out calf pens, the children are nearby making houses, forts, and tunnels out of hay bales.  On a good day, the three of them can entertain themselves building, imagining, and creating for an hour or more without bickering.   When they do begin to squabble, sending one of them to work with Matthew or me solves the problem.  No electronic equipment or scheduled activities are needed to amuse them, just good old fashioned playtime in the fresh air.      

Living on a farm has shown our children that death is a part of life.  Early last spring, one of our heifers needed help calving.  She was in the warmth and shelter of the greenhouse where Matthew had been monitoring her progress throughout the morning.   After he had unsuccessfully tried to extract the calf,  Bill, our loyal and “tougher-than-nails” farm employee,  and I went to the greenhouse to help.  Excited to watch a calf being born, Walker, Anna, and Wyatt came too and settled themselves on top of a large round straw bale to watch. 

Usually three people can make short work of a difficult birth, but not in this case.   Bill and Matthew lay down in the straw behind the heifer and pulled with all their strength on the calf's two front legs while I stretched open the birth canal.  The calf's head, two front legs, and stomach slipped out, but its hips locked inside the birth canal.  Each time the heifer had a contraction, the three of us pulled while both the calf and mother bellowed.  Time was running out for the calf who bawled despairingly for life while we yanked and tugged.

Remembering we had a young audience, I turned to see three sets of eye balls focused on the drama unfolding before them.  I  urged them to go outside and play on their swing set, but they wouldn't budge.  Even if I ushered them outside, I knew they'd sneak back inside the greenhouse.  They wanted to see how this story ended. 

Sadly, we lost both the calf and its mother, a rare event on our farm.  After trying so hard to help them, we were all deflated from the disappointing outcome.  Matthew and I were impressed by how well the children handled the unfavorable ending.  There were no tears or hysterics, just many questions which opened a gateway for discussion about the circle of life.

Parenting children in a complicated world, I am comforted knowing the dairy farm will help us raise children to be kindhearted, hardworking individuals who will contribute positively to society.  By the time Walker, Anna, and Wyatt are old enough to seek other vocations, they will know how to cut and pile wood, milk a barn full of cows, drive a tractor, care for large and small animals, fix things when they're broken, and grow their own food.  

Walker once asked me, “Mama, would you rather be a farmer or a “regular person?”

“What do you mean by a “regular person” Walker?”

“A regular person goes away from their house to work every day and buys all their food at a grocery store.”

Without hesitating, I answered, “A farmer.”

“Me too,” he said.                    


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