There is never a lack of things to do when living on a farm. Each season holds it blessings and its challenges. Winter is no exception. With the dropping temperatures, there are many things that take more time to do or need special attention. I think of my children this evening as their counterparts that live in town and attend the public school will be looking forward to a day off tomorrow. The temperatures are supposed to be dropping over night into the negative digits with a wind chill that will make it feel considerably colder. It is just too cold for the children to waiting for the bus. However, if you are a farm kid, life keeps moving on. The animals are cold and desperately need food and water to survive. And they can’t get it themselves.
Each morning our children rise and head out into the elements to take care of the animals. On most mornings, our policy is that the animals get fed and then the people get fed. This keeps everyone moving and gives Mom a chance to get a big meal on the table for some really hungry people. Boots, jackets, overalls, wool socks, gloves, and hats will all be brought in near the fire to warm up before heading out into the elements. Just getting dressed adds precious time on to our day, but absolutely necessary.
When the kids get out to the barn, they check on the animals and then begin the process of feeding and watering all the animals. This includes the milking cows, dry cows, calves, chickens, turkeys, and Ms. Piggie. The newborn calves get special attention to make sure that their tiny bodies are keeping warm. And there are the eggs to be gathered from the chicken house.
The water in all the troughs will be frozen. A metal bar or piece of PVC piping will be used to crack the ice before new water can be added. This morning it was cold enough that our little guy was finding water frozen within 20 minutes of the time it was filled up. When temperatures drop this low, it becomes necessary for the animals to be watered several extra times per day because of the need to break the ice so they can get to the water.
Extra feed will also be taken to the animals. We normally adhere to almost 100% grass feeding or pasturing of the animals. Their diet continues to be comprised largely of pasture and hay, but some additional grains and minerals are needed to supplement both calories as well as nutrients that are not found in great enough amounts in the winter grasses.
A couple of mornings a week, the kids and I help with loading Gary’s truck for deliveries and then unloading his truck after he returns. This will mean extra time out at the barn in addition to their normal chores. Some of their extra responsibilities come in washing and packaging eggs, reshelving glass milk bottles, and dispensing milk to be loaded on the truck.
Once the chores are completed, everyone stops by the wood pile to bring in an armload of wood to help keep the stove going. Whispers of hot chocolate or tea and a hearty breakfast can be heard as they bustle past one another to warm their hands and feet by the fire. As breakfast is served and eaten, we begin pulling out schoolbooks. Throughout the day, the children will run back out to check on the water and to gather eggs before they break from freezing.
In years gone by, children worked just as hard if not harder and then had to walk to school sometimes in high drifts of snow. There are definitely the physical challenges of living life on the farm, but the struggles in the fairness of working this hard can be hard ones to tackle. As I think back to the many episodes of Little House on the Prairie what I realize is that Laura and Mary were just like all the other kids. They all lived on homesteads. Well, except for Nellie. Nellie was the “city” girl of the bunch. She lived an easy life compared to the other children in Walnut Grove. I think the biggest struggle for farm kids today is that they are no longer the norm. The majority of their counterparts will not wake to do chores before school or carry the responsibility of life on their shoulders as our children do. In having lived a few more years than our children, I can see the value of the lessons being learned. But when I walk in their shoes, life can seem hard and unfair for now. The day will come when they reap the reward of their labors and have stories to share with their own children of their life on the farm.