By now, a majority of school-aged children are out on summer vacation. When I was growing up, the first day of summer break meant one thing: it was time to head to the barn to start “show cow boot camp.” This included walking my show calves every morning, except Sundays, through most of June and early July to get ready for the late summer and fall shows. Faithfully every morning, I could be found walking up and down Church Road with a calf, developing our sense of teamwork.
Fast-forward 25 years, and while not as intense, my oldest son and I have begun these same traditions in preparing for the 4-H fair in August. This 4-H calf project is set up as a “farm within the farm,” giving our son the chance to learn calf care basics and responsibilities.
As for the rest of the farm, it’s still a balancing act. The dairy farm is much larger than it was during my husband’s childhood. Fitting kids into the routine of a farm has gotten much harder as farms become larger and more hi-tech. For example, the tractor I learned how to ted hay and pull wagons with was a rather simple one to operate. Look in a modern tractor and with all the precision equipment add-ons, it looks more like mission control. Mechanization has replaced handwork in many farm operations. And, as some farms have grown dramatically in size, nonfamily employees now complete many of the chores once reserved for children.
As the times change, so do farms, and families have to figure out how they are going to incorporate their children into the day-to-day operation of the farm. At one interview, a farmer shared how they realized their child needed a reality check to running a farm. When asked about their chores on the farm, the child answered why would he ever need to do chores? That’s what the hired help was for. It was the wake-up call to the farmer and wife that some restructuring was needed to incorporate the child into the daily routine.
As a mom, I often ask other parents how they manage their kids around the farm. I am always looking for ideas and tips. No matter what is your farm’s approach, remember to incorporate a “safety first” attitude with your children around the farm. No one wants to see an injury or trip to the hospital.
Second, make sure the chores issued to young children are age-appropriate. North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks, or NAGCAT, provides fact sheets with simple yes/no questions to help determine if a child has the maturity needed for a task. Go here to check out the guidelines.
Third, for teens, make sure they stay focused on the task at hand, and not get distracted by their smartphones.
Just like raising a 4-H calf, it takes time, care and guidance to grow the next generation of agricultural enthusiasts.
-- Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, special sections editor