Ten years ago, I couldn’t even imagine myself to be the person I am today. I found this wonderful person who loved to farm hiding inside of me. A year ago this past December we moved to our very own six-acre farm. When I turn down the road to my house and see my big barn in the distance it is still enough to make my heart flutter.
Spring is almost here and Erik my oldest son just turned over the garden for the first time, this year the dirt is rich in organic matter from our horses and chickens. I expect to have a much better garden this year. In the last three years my oldest daughter Heather and I have learned to preserve that garden with canning. I found that it is the most incredible feeling to pull jars of food you have grown and preserved from a canner.
We have had chickens for the past five years. I love to see them scattering happily across the pasture chasing bugs through the air. Last summer we raised one hundred of our own meat chickens and butchered them. I canned meat for the first time. We also had some hens go broody and hatched our very first chicks. The look on Erik’s face when he brought me that first chick to see was priceless.
We have been drinking real milk, which is what I call raw milk, for about two years. I drive forty-five minutes one-way every week to pick up milk. I purchase it from a small farm and the amount I can buy is limited.
After reading The Family Cow, my heart is willing to give this little girl a happy home. I have empty stalls in my barn and a three acre green pasture. I have four children who are willing to help me take care of her, especially my daughter Kirsten. One day about a year ago she asked me when we were going to get our own cow, I started my milk-cow fund that day. She is sixteen and owns a small cart pony. She faithfully cares for her without any prodding from me.
I love this little farm and I love being a farmer family. With each adventure we grow and learn, I would love if the little heifer named Amethyst could be a part of our farming adventure. If she did, I would give one of her heifers the same chance to find a new family, I guess we could call it the Spirited Rose Amethyst Project. Just imagine how many families could benefit if we each gave the gift of a single heifer.
It isn’t because of the baby chicks. Even though they’re cute when they hatch, sometimes they get pasty butt. Which speaks for itself.
It isn’t because of the sweet taste of sugar snap peas picked right off the trellis. Since they often like to climb into the blackberry brambles, making for a painful harvest.
It isn’t even because of the incredible compost that the animals produce for free and the garden thrives on. After all, someone has to haul it down to the raised beds. One wheelbarrow at a time.
No, the reason I love farming is because it makes us full.
Full of hope that the squash bugs won’t be so prolific or arrive so early this year. Full of love for the goats who fill the milk pail in return for a scratch behind the ears. Full of joy when the roof on the barn doesn’t leak or blow off during hurricane season. Full of determination when the livestock guardian dog gets out of the fence. Again. Full of frustration when we lose the fall crops to an early frost and the summer garden to drought. Full of laughter watching a grown sheep frolick like a lamb in spring’s first warm breezes. Full of tolerance when the guineas send up an endless and ear splitting alarm call, warning us of a fallen acorn. Full of sorrow when we hold the soft head of a beloved animal as age or sickness takes away her final breath. Full of peace when the evening chores are done and the chirping of crickets replaces the crowing of the rooster.
Our fridge, freezer, and pantry are full of fresh food. Our bookcases are full of Do It Yourself, How To…, and every Storey’s Guide that has been printed. Our hands are full of scratches, scars, and callouses. Our minds are full of plans to expand the herb beds, schemes to keep the bucks in their pen despite the proximity of the does, and dreams of teaching the pony to pull a cart (remember all that compost?). Our kids’ lives are full of chores, wet noses, secret trails through the woods, fishing in the pond with leftovers, and impromptu bonfires.
Yes, I love that farming is full of life. Full to the brim. Maybe even overflowing.
Oh, there is an occasional Saturday morning when I imagine what it would be like to wake up with nothing to do. Instead of waking to the sound of the ducks flapping around on the windowsill, wondering if I am ever coming out with their breakfast. And I’ve heard that some people spend Sunday afternoon taking a nap. As if Sunday after church isn’t the perfect time for strolling the aisles of Southern States, choosing a new halter for the pony and getting fresh oyster shell for the chickens. I guess, in the end, I wouldn’t trade a full life for a nap or an extra hour of sleep.
But I admit that I almost didn’t enter this contest. I sat on the deck watching the ducks swimming in the pond, the chickens scratching in the compost, the goats nibbling the hay roll, and the pony giving herself a dust bath, and thought that maybe we were full up right now. So I called down to the kids who were adding fresh cedar saplings to their latest teepee.
“Hey, guys, what would we do if we had a calf?”
My oldest son snorted, “Gee, mom, put it in the barn.”
He’s experimenting with sarcasm in preparation for his teen years.
My daughter squealed with delight and gushed, “Are we getting a calf? Can we get her today? Can I name her? Can she sleep in my bed?”
OK, I made up that last question. But don’t think she wouldn’t ask if she thought I would let her.
My middle son looked up from stripping branches and grinned, “I bet I could show her at the fair and win first place. You said I was big enough to show an animal last time we were at the fair, remember?”
Did I say that? Why would I say that? Did I have too many funnel cakes?
I shrugged in a noncommittal way.
“Yes, but what would we do with her after the fair?”
All four heads looked up in confusion. They exchanged a glance.
Finally, my youngest son spoke up, “Mom. She’s a calf. Calves grow up to be cows. Cows give milk. We would milk her, of course.” They all shook their heads and chuckled to themselves at my stupidity.
Why are they as thick as thieves when it comes to mocking me and mortal enemies when there’s only one ice cream sandwich left in the box?
That’s why I love farming. Because even kids know a life can never be too full. And that there’s always room for one more.
Raw milk has been apart of our life for about two years now. With raw milk and cream we experimented with making ice cream, and I’ll certainly say that it was some of the best we had ever tasted. Our next goal would be to make cheese, except that the farmers that we buy milk from have limited supply so making cheese isn’t in our grasp yet.
That was when I had asked my Mom about when are we going to buy a cow. I think she had been mildly surprise when I had said that I would dedicate myself to her, milk her, care for her and read all that I can on the subject to keep her healthy and understand her better. And in turn, I was surprised when my older brother, Erik, said that he would help with the cow. Then my little brother, Joshua, also said that he was interested in learning how to milk a cow. This pleased me, because then the lucky cow would truly become the Family Cow.
It was early Sunday that my Dad brought me over to the computer to show me this contest. I was riveted by the beautiful little cow, staring at the camera with her sweet eyes. I was driven to write the essay, without any thought of not doing so.
For the past few years, I would say that we have earned the term ‘Farmer’. Which started with our first real garden (not the plants in pots like we had the previous year), to raising chickens, to learning how to can (which I’m still squeamish about) but my Mom and my older sister, Heather, have really got it down.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t do my fair share of the canning work. I peel and cut apples for jelly and pie filling. I even picked the apples from our very own apple tree last year. I pick tomatoes and peppers, dig up onions and potatoes, helped weed the garden through its season. Except we didn’t get to enjoy any carrots because the sweet potatoes vines got so overpowering that you couldn’t even see the carrots anymore. Then when we went looking for the carrots we couldn’t find them, apparently the sweet potatoes had decided that they hadn’t needed to live.
There was only one particular fruit that I didn’t quite enjoy preparing. Even though it made great pie. And that would be the dear cherries that we picked from a local orchard. I do insist that we should invest in a cherry pitter next season. Because somehow we didn’t this past season.
As farmers, we are growing every year with the abundant knowledge we learn about over the winter months, then put it at work in the new year. Constantly learning from mistakes and finding new and fun things to try. I believe the cow, Amethyst, would help us reach another goal as farmers.
As a family, we our close-knit and understanding of each other. We strive to live in harmony with the land and our animals; we yearn for the days when we’re truly independent, and we keep each other up even when the road seems grim.
We wait for the days when we finally reach the goal of true homesteaders, but until then, we’ll be dedicated farmers.
Although I grew up in the city, milking and farming are in my blood. I know this because when my grandmother was dying my grandpa pulled out her old diaries and let us read them. A curious aspect to her writing was how bovines were such a large part of her midwestern life. It was exciting to read about how many she’d milked that day and whether the females were in heat. Even in a big scrapbook chronicling vacations she took as a girl she talks about milking cows along the way on farms they stayed overnight at. It was apparent that farm life, particularly caring for milk cows, was a large part of what was important to her as a young girl. I have 6 children of my own now, and I now know how she must have felt; farming isn’t something I do, it’s something deep inside…who I have been, who I am, and who I am becoming.
We used to spend a lot of time away from home, but now we find ourselves rushing back from every errand to tend to the animals. There’s always someone who needs feed or eggs needing collected. My 11 year old son, who hates doing chores, has really stepped it up since getting his own goat kid. He gets up promptly in the morning to give Hoosier his morning bottle and watches the clock carefully for each of the other feedings. His father and I are so grateful for having the pleasure of watching our son blossom by having sole custody of an animal. I’ve seen us transition from a self-centered family to a cooperative one. It’s brought us together and has helped us interact with one another. If one of the kids has to go out and do chores, they all go out and help.
My husband laughs at me because I like to go out, sit and watch our lonely cow in the pasture for hours. She’ll come over to the fence to visit for a little bit and get a treat, but then she goes on about her business while I sit and watch. Words can’t describe the overwhelming peace and contentment I feel while watching her. The other animals on our little homestead bring me joy, but Marcie brings me quiet, something in short supply in a homeschooling family.
I love the way things work together on a farm, the circle of life if you will. The animals give us manure, meat, eggs, and milk in exchange for us feeding and caring for them. I’ve noticed that when our animals are happy they tend to be healthy. As we’ve gotten more involved in farming, I’ve noticed myself looking around for animals wherever I am. When we go to the library I get books about animals, even if it’s not one we have or have thought about raising.
If Amethyst comes to live on our farm we will love her to pieces. She’ll find herself in a lush 10 acre pasture with one presently lonely cow for company. The goats might occasionally come knocking, but they like to keep to themselves for the most part. With 6 kids running around, it seems someone is always walking by with a bovine treat. And when she’s old enough to breed, we will pair her with a registered bull, with a history of low birthweight calves. We’re in the process of refurbishing the old barn on our place. It already has running water, we just need to build the stalls and put in the hot water heater. Once that’s done she’ll have a nice clean shelter and there’ll be a lovely milking parlor for the girls and I to milk in.
With her around I will continue to learn more of why my grandma put so much in her diaries about our moo-ing friends.
BY: Victoria G.
What do you like most about Farming? By Erin H.
Farming was something that was in my blood from the beginning. My forefathers tilled and toiled over this land that we live on. My great grandfather owned a dairy herd and back then, they had plenty of children to milk the cows each day. Growing up in the city as I did, I always felt a connection to the land, to the simpler life. I never met my great grandfather, and the old farm was long since torn down and houses built up all along the hillside where milk cows used to graze. Going through life as a child, I can remember dreaming of a day that I would have my own Jersey milk cow-a family cow on a little farm. After I married my husband, I realized how inept I was at homemaking. Making meals out of a box was all I could manage in the earlier years. My grandmother was getting up in her years and I wanted to absorb as much of her wisdom I could while she was still alive. She would tell me story after story about my grandpa’s life on the diary farm. I would sit in total amazement while she talked so plain about this life that they lived. I knew that moment that I needed to return to the land to raise my children. Soon we found our first homestead. It was basically a pile of rubble. It took years to make it a home. The tall red dairy barn was my favorite part of our homestead. I would walk out there and dream about the day I would have a jersey cow standing in a milk stall waiting to be milked. After my grandmother passed, her stories became my life song. I was bound and determined to find a jersey cow. One day I met an Amish man for the first time in a gas station. Surely, I thought this Amish man would know where to find a jersey. He told me where an Amish store was near there and that someone there would know. That started the journey for us. We were invited into the Amish homes and saw why we wanted the life of a farmer. The kids seemed happier, more considerate, and very responsible. The way of life seemed so relaxed but full of purpose. This was the life that we needed for our children.
My husband is a wise man and thought getting a cow was a bit of a leap for city folks like us, so we settled on some laying hens to start with. When we walked out to the barn, I felt like a real farm wife. My dreams were starting to become a reality. Our oldest son, came running in one day and said that the hen laid some eggs. The excitement was overwhelming to all of us. Quickly, we ran out to the barn and joyfully peered into a wooden box where there lay about 13 eggs in a nest. I carefully, placed each of the eggs into my apron and walked ever so slowly toward the house. I told the children that we were going to eat eggs, our own farm fresh eggs, for breakfast. They sat around the table just anxiously awaiting the flavor of a real farm fresh egg. Then I screamed. The kids all came running. Plop! Out came a fully formed chick! We were all horrified. It was a moment we will never forget. That is the fun of farm life-suprises around every corner. Television and Hollywood have nothing to offer as exciting as farm life. We soon learned that a chicken lays one egg a day and that you need to take it right away before she starts to set on them. The rest of the chicks made it. They hatched out and the sounds of the peeping chicks was precious to us. We visited our baby chicks throughout the day and never tired of it.
Soon we ended up buying a jersey cow. She was so lovely and when the calf was born we all rushed out to greet the little heifer. It is such a sweet and precious experience to see a baby jersey. There is nothing like it in the world. For our first time milking, we were timid and afraid the cow would kick us over. She never minded the milking even though it was her first time freshening. The milk was so good. We ended up making butter and yogurt right away. The kids and I would spend hours of time in the kitchen each day learning how to make dairy products. Many times we would fail, but it was fun trying and there was plenty of milk to go around. Walking out to the barn when the sun was just peeking over the horizon was out of a dream. The fog was lifting, the cow was mooing and the hens were clucking-so serene. I learned how to hitch up a pony with a cart and I would pack my 5 little children into the pony cart and take them for rides around the barn yard every morning. We would sing songs as we jiggled over the bumps in the yard. Oh the fun of farm life. The kids would get their rubber boots on and come with me out to the barn to feed and water all the animals. We had goats, chickens, a pony, a milk cow, and a calf. We also had a large garden that we enjoyed working in. Our summer was filled with hot days weeding in the garden, and cool mornings and evenings milking and gathering eggs. It was a very fulfilling life for our family.
There came a day that we had to sell our first homestead and move far away. I can remember the day the trailer picked up our pony, the cow and the calf. I bawled so hard, it was as if my heart was ripped out of me. I was afraid we would never have the farm life again. I was wrong. We moved to middle Tennessee and bought a homestead there. Soon we filled the barn with animals again and life was blossoming all around us. The first spring on our new homestead, I walked over the ground where our new garden was planned to be, and I saw a vision flash before my eyes. It was as if I heard “With this garden, you will teach the world”. That was a crazy thought, WE, dumb city folk, would TEACH the world? When I told my husband that we should film everything we do on our homestead to teach others, he looked at me and said, “We are not experts. Who would want to watch us or learn from us?” I said, “That is the beauty of it, don’t you see? We could encourage others by not being experts. We can show how we raised all the food that is on our table and if WE could do it SO COULD THEY!” Thus started a new chapter in our homesteading experience. Everything we did from then on, was filmed and put to video. We called it the Homesteading for Beginners DVD series because we were beginners teaching beginners. The first year of selling the DVDs was interesting. We really didn’t give it much thought as we thought we did our part and we gave the video to another company who essentially who printed it and sold it. It didn’t seem real until we started getting letters from families that were so thankful that we made these DVDs. At first, it was weird. We could not believe that people actually liked them. We thought that people would watch it and say, that it was a waste of money.
This farming life is contagious! Since we have moved back to Wisconsin, sold all of our livestock again, we bought another homestead! It took some time to build up again, but we could not be without a family milk cow or chickens. We picked up a jersey cow again and loved her to pieces. I think she was my favorite cow so far. Any time she saw me, she would run to the fence to smell me and let me pet her. I would go out each day and brush her and love on her. I filmed her calf being born and it was such a miracle. It is a blessing to be able to share all of our experiences of the farm life with other families around the world. We ended up buying a flock of sheep, a couple horses, turkey, chickens, and even a couple piglets. Experiencing all the animals that are being born is the best part of farming. It is like you keep getting a new gift each day-a special surprise. The kids love that part of farming the most. They run into the house announcing the new arrivals and we all run out to see what just happened. We start naming the animals and caring for them. It never grows dull. It is a lot of work, but it is worth the effort. The payback is bigger than money. It is a life filled with wonder, amazement and miracles.
Not too long ago, our cow died from cancer. Learning to cope with death is also a big part of farm life. That part never gets easier for us, but it is a fact of life. Now we are hoping to get another jersey cow so we can continue to bless others with our homesteading journey. Sharing the excitement and joy of farm life has become our purpose. As we grow and learn, we are not only imparting helpful knowledge to our own children, we are equipping families far and wide to do the same. Families are becoming more independent from the grocery stores while they are building bonds with one another. Farming is in all of us. It is in our blood. Each of us came from farming stock hundreds of years ago. Even folks that grew up in city far from their roots, they are even being pulled to the land. Homesteading has not only become a way of life for our family, it has become who we are. We are Homesteaders.