Aug. 2 2018 08:10 AM

As the number of farms continues to fall, farm kids have become unique, now more than ever.

Cassie and Tyler with Champion and Reserve Champion cow at the Rock Island County Fair in East Moline, Ill.

It’s been a summer where we have found ourselves short on help with a never-ending to-do list. Thankfully, our kids have risen to the challenge, taking on more chores and responsibilities.

Days and nights have intertwined. After a long day of sorting, vaccinating, and moving heifers, we’re exhausted. Through tired eyes, we realize that our show string still needs to be tended to, as does dinner. So, at 8 p.m., the kids go out to walk, water, and feed heifers, while I make dinner. It doesn’t go in perfect harmony, but we get the job done. Bedtime seems to get pushed back later and later, while the alarm clocks go off at the same darn time each morning.

The next day, more of the same awaits.

The weekend where we find ourselves with a tad of free time is the weekend before county fair, when the show string needs to be washed and clipped. I’m trying to be a cheerleader; encouraging the kids to get the job done. And somehow, through the grace of God, they clip 10 head (six heifers and four cows) in one day. I step aside more and more, as the kids have got this, and honestly, they operate better sans mom.

The boys take a quick break in between clipping cows to play in the cottonseed pile.

When we get to the fair, we realize that we’re the only ones who signed up! I see the disappointment in my kids' eyes. They have worked too hard the last eight weeks — on top of helping on the farm — to compete against just themselves.

I try to cheer them on again, and say, “Well, at least it’ll go quickly.”

But, what the kids miss is seeing how their cattle and their showmanship skills stack up against others, not just against themselves. They look forward to uniting with farm kids of all ages because for once, when they gather at a county fair, they feel less alone. Interacting with other farm kids makes you believe that your life is normal.

I know fewer entries are simply a sign of the times. This is hard to digest and even harder to explain to my kids, though. The reality is that farm kids like Tyler, Cassie, and Jacob Bohnert are diminishing at rapid speed.

In the meantime, we continue to encourage participation in 4-H and showing cattle, along with being a team member of Bohnert Jerseys. The days are long and the nights are short, but in reality our kids have grown in so many ways this summer. Doing more with less means farm kids have stepped up in times of need. They work hard and face disappointments — life lessons that serve as a firm launch pad for future success.

Karen Bohnert

Karen Bohnert is a second-generation dairy farmer, born and raised on her family dairy in Oregon and moved east after graduating from Oregon State University. Karen and her husband work in partnership with family, and they along with their three children live and work on the family's 500 Jersey cow dairy in East Moline, Ill. Karen's pride and love for dairy could fill a barn, and she actively promotes dairy anyway she can.