Living a life ‘not dabbling in normal’, whatever the ‘not normal’ is, can be fraught with uncertainty when you have kids. Not uncertainty about how you’re living your life, but uncertainty about how your kids see it, how they’ll feel about it as they grow older, and if they’ll choose this life for themselves or go in a different direction. Now I’m certainly not wanting my children to choose a life that they aren’t in love with simply because it’s the way they grew up, but neither do I want them to shun a life they would love if it weren’t for rough or unfulfilling childhood experiences. My husband and I are always keeping this idea in mind – making our life appealing to our children – when we make decisions about what animals (or how many) to own and what to include in our gardens. Today I’m going to talk about the animal side of it.
A few weeks ago we found out that a nearby dairy had some half-Brahma, half-Holstein newborn calves for sale. We decided to try to get a few heifers for our daughter’s herds.
Yeah, they have their own herds. Small herds, of course, but herds nonetheless.
We include the kids in what we do as a matter of course – they can’t be left alone in the house while we chore, so they chore with us. This has led to them owning their own animals, having their own garden, and us having to answer a lot of questions. It all started with some lambs.
For a few years, I raised a lot of bum lambs every year. When Hannah was old enough to help bottle-feed lambs, she was given two of her own to raise.
She was responsible for helping me mix bottles and feed them to her lambs. When they were on grain, she helped her Daddy measure it out, and when they were on pasture, she checked on water with me every day. She watched them grow, she loved them, she got excited about selling them to buy a saddle for her pony, and she cried bitter tears when they were actually sold. (But she loves her saddle.)
Then I used my own lamb money to get LaMancha goats.
When she was old enough to help me with milking chores and showed an interest in the goats, I gave her one of my goats. Then that goat turned out to be a ‘cull’ goat, so I traded her for one of my keepers. Her new goat had babies three days later, so she was happy with the trade.
While Beauty (the doe) was in milk, Hannah helped with the chores daily. She helped me put the kids up at night, got them their feed and water, played with them to keep them friendly, and let them out after milking the next morning. She helped wash teats before milking and she and Ains even tried milking on a patient doe.
Ainsley has shown no interest in the goats besides playing with the babies, so she doesn’t have any yet. I’ve talked to Hannah about buying one of the babies from her (he’s a nice buck) and she’s been receptive, but I’ll have to pay. A dollar. My husband thought it would be a good time to go over basic economics with her. She thought he was ‘cracked in the head’ if she was going to make her mother pay more than a buck for her buck. We’re still hashing that one out. She’s also considering selling her baby doe, so we’re going over that with her too. Feed costs for the winter, amount she could sell her for, what she could do with milk she gets from her if she keeps her (not to mention more babies) … It may seem like a lot to be discussing with a girl that’s not even six years old, but it never ceases to amaze me what kids catch on to when they’re interested in something. She’s thrown around the idea of selling the baby doe and buying a rabbit cage and a “mommy and daddy rabbit so that I can sell the babies”. We would definitely have to do a lot of discussing for that one.
It’s not always about giving the children animals of their own. Take the chickens and turkeys for example. None of the poultry belongs to my daughters – they’re not that interested – but they’ve always helped with the chores. Watering, feeding, and especially gathering eggs are easy chores for the little ones.
When the girls see what we do with fresh eggs, they’ll make trips out to the pen just to see if there are any fresh eggs – Hannah wants them for Egg Drop Soup, Ainsley wants them for Marshmallow Meringues.
And it’s also not always about my own kids and what they gain from it. Every year that my sister visits us, we get two piglets to raise (the other years we buy ready-to-harvest hogs from a trusted grower) simply for her son when he visits. Don’t get me wrong, I *love* raising piglets, it’s just that it’s one more type of animal on our place and I’m stretched a bit thin as it is. But it’s worth it when I see my nephew who lives in the city but loves pigs get to be around them as much as he wants.
It’s wonderful to see how kids just naturally do what they need to do to be around what they love being around. When he’s here, I don’t have to worry about any chores except for milking. On his first day here, I walk him around the farm and show him what I do. The next morning when I walk out to do chores, he’s just finishing them all up. Amazing.
But back to the calves. Two years ago, we had the same opportunity with calves. Inexpensive heifer calves and two little girls that were needing more outside time (it was early spring and we had cabin fever). Twice a day we bundled up and took milk out to our baby calves. Each girl got a heifer and my husband’s herd got a bump of four heifers. Those heifers are having babies now and the girls ask to see them every time we travel to Wyoming where they’re living right now. When we do cattle work in Wyoming, the girls are there and as involved as they can be. When we’re figuring out feed costs for the winter, they’re as involved as is age-appropriate. When we feed in the winter, they’re out there gathering hay bale twine as we feed. And when they heard that Daddy was getting some half-Brahma, half-Holstein calves, they wanted in.
So far, we’ve only gotten one heifer calf and two steer calves and we don’t know if any more are coming. Hannah’s taken the heifer calf and Ainsley’s taken the beautiful red steer. I see more tears in the future, but for now it’s feeding the calves every morning and night… (my little girl that doesn’t like to get up before ten a.m. gets up happily at 7:30 a.m. to feed her Cassina)
and answering lots of questions – some of them a bit awkward.
And hopefully, just maybe, making this life interesting enough that our kids will not be scared off of choosing it for themselves as adults.