Marilyn Hershey
A nonfarm friend recently commented on a social media video that included a toddler from a farm family walking around the barn and the animals. She was concerned about the amount of dirt surrounding the child. My first reaction when I saw the clip was to smile, but her first reaction was to cringe. I am not arguing one way is right and one is wrong but just pointing out the differences in our viewpoints.

Stories of when our children were young and adventurous came spewing out, and she got a deluge of memories of the kids playing in cow pies, drinking out of the cat dish, and dragging toys through the mud. I even confessed about how I cleaned their pacifier when it fell in the barn.

Kids are attracted to dirt like moths are to a light. It seems to me that farm families are very relaxed and accepting of dirt under fingernails, between toes, and around our children. If asked, we most likely would answer that we are building immune systems with all that dirt.

The first house we lived in had a designated mud room, and I took that mud room for granted. It was so nice to have a specific space to throw the shoes, stack the clothes, and get clean before coming into the house.

Another benefit to that home was a dip in the driveway that created a huge puddle when it rained. It wasn’t deep, but it was wide, and it was a great collector of dirt and mud. After a rainfall, I would often find the boys splashing through the puddle. One time I caught them in the middle of a fun and productive mud slinging battle. There were no losers in this one; every one of them was dripping mud from their entire body.

Thankfully, for memory’s sake, my first reaction was to grab my camera, thinking this was a moment to capture. These muddy photos still surface from time to time.

One advantage of raising dirt-searching children on a dairy farm is the fact that we also had a wash tub in the milk house. I remember times that the dirt was layered on them too thick and too deep for the house tub. The cleaning task was much easier when I lined up the culprits in the milk house and bathed them out there, hoping the towel would keep them clean enough until they got to the house.

I remember a time when the farm dirt collided in big ways with one of our sons. It was in the chapter of life when I milked cows with one of the kids in the tie stall barn. I don’t remember the specific shirt Stephen wore that day other than it was oversized and it hung down at his arms.

He was walking behind the cows to get to the next one while carrying the milking machine. I noticed a cow started raising her tail, and she had a bad habit of coughing when she pooped. Well, the timing could not have been better or worse, depending if you were the cow or the kid. Either way, the cow coughed as Stephen walked past and placed a direct shot right in his shirt and down his chest.

He got a free pass to get cleaned up from that mess and, thankfully, there weren’t many cows left to milk because he wasn’t back that evening. I certainly cannot blame him for that decision.

Dirt is not only attracted to younger children. It is the nature of the environment we work in, and I expect it to surface on me as well.

We had an intern one summer, and I was apprehensive as we awaited his arrival. He was not raised on a dairy farm, and although I knew he loved cows and being in the showring, I was not sure if he had what it takes to enjoy the day-to-day management.

At the end of the first day, Nate walked through the door, splattered from cap to shoes with manure. He did not seem to mind his current condition and his smile spoke volumes. At that point, I knew we would be okay that summer. Granted, the amount of dirt gathered does not automatically equate to efficient farm work, but dirt is part of the day. If someone wants to stay clean, farming is not a good occupation for them.

After all these points, I need to admit that it does take balance when it comes to farm dirt. I am reminded of an incident the year that our barn roof collapsed. Thanks to our caring community, we had a steady supply of goodies in the barn office. They got the best of an employee though, when he did not clean his hands between moving calves and eating brownies. He took a few days off after becoming sick, and we were all more diligent about hand washing before eating after that.

At the start of the day, I need to be responsible, accountable, and sensible about the farm dirt that surrounds my family and employees. At the end of the day, I will tell you, there is no better feeling than to wash away that dirt. Manure and dirt have their place in our daily lives. Still, it is all smiles around here when we can call it a day and wash it down the drain.