I always appreciated the routine of a family farm.
It’s something we plan our days, weeks, seasons and even lives around.
On our farm, the routine is so established that there are few things that can alter it.
Cows must be fed twice a day.
Round bales are put in feeders every other day.
Barns and chicken coops are cleaned according to schedule.
Pastures are rotated, tractors are maintained, seeds are planted and hay is cut around the same dates every year.
No matter what was happening with the weather or in our busy lives, the routine of the farm was always a constant ... something I could depend on.
But would it remain that way?
When news of the impending coronavirus surfaced in early March, I wondered if the routine of our farm would continue to endure.
Surely, there would be a change.
It wasn’t long before the routine of our family life, like everyone’s, was shattered. All of a sudden, it seemed, my wife didn’t have to drive to work every morning and the school bus no longer arrived in front of the house to pick up the kids. Meetings, church services and sports activities were all gone.
In their place we had social distancing, quarantine and isolation. The threat of the coronavirus changed our lives drastically, and we had to adapt.
But what did it all mean for the comfort we derived from the daily routine of farm life? Turns out, it grew stronger.
As the world around us shut down, the term “family farm” took on a new meaning. With nothing else to whittle away at our time, we spent more time together as a family as the farm became our sole focus.
For our 7-year-old twins, Hunter and Kelly Ann, who now had plenty of time with school being closed, the farm became a classroom of sorts as they helped with daily chores.
On their first day off from school, my wife and I put them in charge of feeding the chickens and collecting eggs. We taught them to measure and calculate how much feed to give the hens during morning and afternoon feedings, and they also brushed up on their counting as they collected eggs.
Perhaps the biggest lesson with the chicken coop curriculum came when the twins had to reach under a broody hen sitting on an egg.
At first they tried to quickly grab the egg and pull away before getting pecked, and the hen usually won.
But as the twins overcame their fear and tried a more patient, cautious approach, they were expertly sliding eggs out while all the hens did was fuss a bit.
When it came to chores involving the cows, that’s when the family effort really made things more efficient. The twins filled buckets at the feed bin, threw square bales down from the hay mow, swept feed alleys and opened gates as I drove the tractor into the barn to fill the round bale feeder.
Aside from caring for livestock, the twins helped change oil in tractors, learned how to use a grease gun and received a horticulture lesson by helping my wife with early plantings of peas and lettuce in the garden.
With their help, chores were getting done faster and the mundane tasks were more enjoyable thanks to the family effort.
It was an effort that not only kept the farm running, but also sheltered us from the grim reality of the crisis that haunts the world.
While we spent plenty of time outside, there were regular school lessons in the house as my wife taught the kids math, reading, spelling and all of the pertinent subjects for the first-grade level. In order to give our kids a complete school experience, however, we had to incorporate ample time for gym class.
And once again, the farm proved to be the perfect setting as I turned the twins loose inside our old bank barn for plenty of physical education. The barn has been used for a variety of things over the last 150 years, but I’m willing to bet this is the first time it’s been used as a playground.
The twins climbed and jumped in the hay mow, played catch with corn cobs in the straw shed, utilized the granary for hide and seek, and rode their bikes on the barn floor.
One evening, as I swept up after feeding the cows, I listened to the twins laughing and running across the floor upstairs. For the time being, the coronavirus was the furthest thing from my mind.
As the self-quarantine continued, I began to lose track of the days of the week. Before long, our lives and schedules were determined not by a calendar but by the routines of the farm. As we fed cows, collected eggs and prepared machinery for the upcoming spring and summer seasons, the pandemic wasn’t even a distraction.
Even if it remains in the back of my mind.
While it’s still unknown just how severe the impact of the coronavirus will be, one thing is clear: Nothing is stronger than the routine of a family farm.