Center Focus Column

Life Lessons on the Farm

Balancing work and family life is difficult for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for those who live and work with their family. On a dairy farm, it is easy to get caught up in the pressures of the day-to-day tasks coupled with the other stresses that farming can bring and forget about the roles that matter most in our lives. Years ago, just before I became a mom, a friend of mine gave me a book and, inside its cover, she wrote, “This will be the most important job you will ever have.” She was right.

We all know that operating a dairy farm in today’s ever-changing and increasingly more volatile business environment is difficult, to say the least. But, in my opinion, there’s no better place to raise a family. One of the most rewarding aspects of farming is the ability to teach your children values – life lessons that stay with them throughout their lives. Here are just a few.

  • A job worth doing is worth doing well. There are lots of opportunities to cut corners on a dairy farm, but eventually that catches up with you. An infamous first job for children on many farms is feeding calves, and it’s an area where you can see the fruits of your labor grow, literally. Calves are also quick to let you know when corners are cut, often in a very vocal way.
  • There is a season for everything. I still remember, at 10 years old, watching my very first 4-H project go out the lane for the very last time. Growing up on a dairy farm allows you to experience life and death in an intimate way, realizing that that everything and everyone has a time and purpose.
  • You catch more flies with honey. Anyone who has ever worked around cows knows how important it is to have patience. The louder you yell or the more abruptly you move, the less likely a dairy cow is to respond to you. By working with these animals, kids can learn how their actions affect others. They learn quickly that remaining calm is always the best policy.
  • Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Any dairy farm kid who got through their childhood without scrubbing the parlor walls or washing the tractor windows had parents who were way too lenient. Hearing that you should be able to drink out of the calves’ water buckets and eat off the milk house floor teaches you very quickly the virtue of keeping things clean.
  •  Early Rise and Early to Bed. Teenagers growing up on a farm are just like any other teenagers. They like to stay up late socializing with their friends. The difference is when 7 a.m. hits. Most other teenagers can sleep until 10 o’clock or after in the summertime, while farm kids are up and out the door, with chores waiting. It takes one or two twelve-hour days that follow five-hour nights until they realize sleep is a necessity.
  •  Many hands make light work. Have you ever seen the farm community come together to help someone in need? I remember times growing up when a neighbor’s barn would burn down or a local farmer would become injured. All the other farmers would come together, leave work undone at their own farms, and help the one in need. To me, there is no better way to teach teamwork and community than letting your children witness that.
  •  Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Each day brings a new challenge on a dairy farm. Putting something off only results in two days’ worth of work instead of one. You must always be looking for what needs done and working ahead. Growing up with that work ethic is invaluable and something that will serve a person well in any profession they choose.
  • Celebrate the Small Things. Farming doesn’t leave a lot of time and money to put toward elaborate vacations. Taking long walks, impromptu backyard ballgames, fishing by the stream, or even just enjoying a bowl of ice cream together are all ways farm families can enjoy each other’s company. This teaches kids that having fun and celebrating family does not require money or exotic trips. It just takes spending time together.
  • Have faith. Farming requires faith. Each spring, you plant a crop and have faith it will grow to yield a harvest. With every newborn calf, you invest time and effort with hope that she will grow into a productive cow. Growing up on the farm gives you a chance to experience God’s miracles and see faith in action every day.

It is easy to get caught up in the challenges of farming, especially after the very difficult year we have just experienced. But, as we celebrate June Dairy Month and both Mother’s and Father’s Day, remember to celebrate the opportunity dairy farming provides to ground our children and teach them the life lessons that will become more and more critical as they grow. To me, it’s almost impossible to replicate that farm experience in any other setting. Cherish the time you have with your children. Being a parent is the most important job you’ll ever have.

Editor’s Note: The Center Focus is a column published monthly by Jayne Sebright, executive director of the Center, in the Lancaster Farming Dairy Reporter.