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Back in the barn

By: Patricia Grotenhuis, 6th generation farmer

My muscles ache, my hands are calloused and cracked, and some days I am so exhausted I could fall asleep standing up. But I am happy, and it means all of our hopes and dreams are coming true.

Patricia is happy to be back in the barn and feeding the young heifers.

Patricia is happy to be back in the barn and feeding the young heifers.

The past year has been full of changes for us and our young family. We moved to the dairy farm my husband’s family has owned since the 1950s, we had a baby, and we bought the dairy farm from my mother and father in law. Before we purchased the farm, I had not worked in a barn for seven years, the last time being during my time as a student at university.

My years between working on a farm during university and owning our farm have been filled with office jobs and caring for children. Even with my attempt to keep myself healthy, it was not enough to prepare my body for the shock of returning to the barn. Now I joke that the barn is my gym and the cows are my trainers.

The first jobs my husband trained me on were feeding the cows, heifers and calves. It made me realize just how lucky I was to grow up on a farm with numerous conveyor belts and augers to deliver ingredients to the mixer and the finished feed to the cattle. The first time I grabbed the handles of that over 800 pound cart to pull it around the heifer barn, I was exhausted before I even made it to the far end of the barn. Once I did make it to the far end, I had to muster my strength and fork all of the feed out of the cart as I walked back to the front of the barn. My forkfuls were small, my pace was slow, and I wondered how long it would take for me to adjust.

I could not stop and rest, though, because the cows were still waiting for their large carts of feed to be pulled around their barn and the feed to be forked out in the mangers. By the time I finished, my leg, arm, back and abdominal muscles were screaming at me. And of course, I still had to feed the hay and carry milk to the calf nursery to feed calves.

The early days were hard. There were times I could barely lift our baby out of his crib because my arm muscles were so sore. I had other days where I would come in from morning chores and not sit until lunch time, busying myself with cleaning house or baking, because I was afraid once I sat, I would not be able to move again. At night, I would try to stay awake long enough to get the kids in bed, load the dishwasher, and have a snack. Some nights I managed, some nights I did not.

Even now, after two months in the barn, I have days where I am sore. The physical exhaustion continues, and I know it will for quite a while yet. It is wonderful, though. I love the sense of accomplishment I have when I realize how much I have learned and how much quicker and stronger I have become.

That being said, there is a mental strain too. It can be frustrating when I find myself struggling to remember how to do a job that would have been second nature when I was growing up. On top of learning the barn tasks and herd management, I also need to learn the other side of farming - the book keeping and other office tasks.

It is a hard adjustment, but I love the challenge and love the fact I am farming alongside my husband; something we have dreamed of doing for years. I feel very fortunate that I am working with him, when he knows the barn management and jobs already, plus how to run the various kinds of equipment. I find myself thinking of friends who have started a farm from scratch with a huge amount of respect.

Some days we have growing pains, and some days I want nothing more than a long soak in the tub to relax my muscles. In addition, we are juggling teaching our children how to behave in the barn and how to watch for hidden dangers. We are also trying to find a chore schedule which will work around school and meals.
Likely, if I had gone directly from school to farming, it would not have been so hard on me. That being said, I think I have a better appreciation for the work I am doing and the struggles beginning farmers face because of the course our lives took. And, even with screaming muscles and tired eyes, every day I feel joy about being back in the barn caring for cows.



Posted by Farm and Food Care on May 5th, 2014 :: Filed under Uncategorized
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