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Kids in the Barn

By Patricia Grotenhuis

Over the past few months, as people hear I’m now working in the barn alongside my husband, there’s one question

Seth loves helping in the barn.

Seth loves helping in the barn.

that we commonly get asked. “What do you do with the kids while you’re in the barn?”

It’s a valid question. We have three children, and the oldest is only five. Farms have many dangers, both obvious and hidden, and our barn is full of Holsteins, which are a large dairy breed.

As soon as we moved to the main farm, before we were even in the succession planning process, I began bringing the boys out to see my husband during chores and to slowly start teaching them how to behave in the barn. We started slow, with the boys riding their bikes in the heifer barn. As time went on, we started adding in visits to the barn the milking cows are in and visits to the calves in the nursery.

By the time I started helping with night chores nearing the end of the succession planning process, the kids were pretty good about staying close, asking before touching anything, and knowing what they were and were not allowed to do. The baby is the easiest one to manage in the barn, as he happily sits in his barn stroller watching us work. When he was younger, the sound of the milking machines frequently put him to sleep and he would have his best naps during chore time. Now he prefers to watch everything that is going on, play with the dog whenever she walks past his stroller, and, in the heifer barn, sit in the play pen we put out there for him.

Aaron uses his pedal tractor to push the feed closer for the heifers.

Aaron uses his pedal tractor to push the feed closer for the heifers.

To help them pass the time in the barn, we have left the bikes in the heifer barn and have also brought out their pedal tractors with wagons. When they just want to have fun, they ride their bikes around the barn. If they want to help, they get on their pedal tractors, hitch up their wagons, and either haul hay or straw, or use the buckets on the tractor to push the heifers’ feed up. It’s always fun to watch them out there.

The cow barn is set up differently, and their bikes and tractors are not as practical in there. For the cow barn, we either have them helping my husband milk, they ride in the feed carts while I’m feeding the cows (the carts aren’t motorized and feed is forked out by hand), or they play on the steps of the hay mow with toy tractors.

One of their favourite “helper jobs”, though, is when the time comes to go to the calf nursery. They love seeing all of the young calves in there and watching the calves drink their milk. They are eager to help me measure the milk to make sure each calf gets the right amount for their age and size, and helping me give the calves a grain and molasses mix to introduce solid food. As much as they love those jobs, though, their ultimate favourite job is when I lift them into the pens and they brush the calves.

It’s a multi-purpose job, which pays off in many ways. The calves love being brushed and it helps them get used to being handled by people. The boys learn how to act around the calves and are shown what it’s like to work with animals that are bigger and stronger than they are. Even a newborn calf can be 100 pounds, and by the time they are one or two days old they are quite sturdy on their feet and playful.

At times, the calves get a little bit too rowdy because they enjoy being brushed so much, and then I quickly pull the boys out of the pen before a calf knocks them down. Ever since we started putting them right in the calf pens, they have been a lot more aware of the fact they need to respect the animals and make sure they don’t put themselves in a position where they could be injured.

With our kids being so young, they also need to eat often, so they have designated “barn lunch bags” which I fill with a snack and put in the stroller for them to pull out whenever they want. The novelty of eating their snacks in the barn hasn’t worn off, and while they eat, we know they are right on the stairs in full view of us.

We are learning as we go. There are days where everything goes well in the barn and the kids are good helpers, and there are days they have trouble remembering the rules and we have to make them sit on the steps until they are ready to listen again. To increase the amount of good days we have, we introduced a “helper treat” reward system. If they are good helpers for me they get a treat, and if they are good helpers for my husband they get a second treat. Being good helpers is a very broad term - basically whenever they don’t break the rules or don’t get sent to the steps they get their treats. These treats are anything small, sweet and individually wrapped, and helper treats are normally the only kind of sweet the kids eat.

As they get older, they will start taking on more responsibility and have assigned jobs. By then they will also be much better about the rules and we won’t have to watch them every second. Even though having young children in the barn can be challenging, and the odd night my husband offers to finish chores so I can bring the boys in and put them to bed, it’s also very rewarding.

We love seeing their “lightbulb moments” when things we talk to them about or show them suddenly make sense. We also love seeing how excited they are about doing their jobs in the barn and how keen they are to take part in our work. Most of all, we love being together as a family all of the time, both while we’re working and while we’re sitting down for meals or play time in the house. I think it’s more than worth the extra time and effort chores take now to see the boys discovering their love for animals, understanding exactly what Mommy and Daddy do at our jobs, and seeing the full process of how food is produced. It may not be easy, but we’re proud of the path our life has taken and of the many learning opportunities we can give them. We are sure the time spent together will more than pay off in the long run.



Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 9th, 2014 :: Filed under Uncategorized
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One Response to “Kids in the Barn”

  1. Julie
    June 10th, 2014

    I love this article, I used to love helping in the barn when I was young. My favorite memory is when I was able to feed the young calves and place the belts on the cows that they used with the milk machines back in the 70’s. I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything!

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