June 11 2021 08:29 AM

Small jobs on the farm can create big learning opportunities for children.

My nephew, Caleb (age 5), is always up for riding along in the tractor, helping watch the gate, or tagging along with his dad to fix something. He also really knows how to have fun, often taking a break to ride his bike, play in the sand pile, or jump on the rows of round bales.

As farm kids get older, it means there are more chores they are finally big enough to help with — whether it’s for the pure enjoyment of helping out on the farm, the purpose of contributing to the family, or to pad their piggy bank with a few dollars here and there.

Growing up, I remember always wanting to help with the next big job or to finally be strong enough, tall enough, or just old enough to help in bigger ways.

When my three siblings and I were young, we started out helping on the farm with small, age-appropriate chores. To prevent punctured tires (and probably just to keep us occupied, if I’m being honest), we would pick up nails left behind during new construction projects each summer — usually earning 1 cent per nail. Collecting trash and recycling items from tractor cabs was a common chore; as was scrubbing calf bottles, sweeping the barn, holding plastic down when we covered the bunker, or the all-time classic of holding the flashlight (which no one can ever seem to do right) while dad fixed anything and everything around the farm. As we got older, we gained responsibility and skills to assist in larger ways with fieldwork, feeding the animals, and milking our dairy herd.

One of our littlest helpers, my niece, has turned into our milking parlor boss. While she’s not even 2 yet, she brings us paper towels, bottles to spray post-dip on the cows, and she lets us know as soon as a milker falls off.
Flash forward to this summer. My nephews (ages 5 and 8) are officially on summer break, spending a lot of time on the farm. They’ve started asking for jobs they can do, and I’m able to look back on my experience growing up on the farm to help think of little chores they can manage and take pride in. As we’ve added our second set of robotic milkers, they’ve been helping put numbers on our collars for cows in that barn. Random jobs — like sweeping our calf building, watering flowers, helping plant the garden, riding along to check and feed the beef cows, and everything in between — are always abundant. And, with the construction of our freestall barn extension, there are plenty of nails to pick up each night after the construction crew wraps up for the day.

While these are just small chores farm kids experience throughout their childhood, they culminated into the way I approach work and see the world today. I learned the importance and positive aspects of always having something meaningful to do, contributing to our family’s livelihood, caring for living things, working with my hands, taking on responsibility, building a strong work ethic, and learning a variety of skills.

There is so much to be gained through little chores that gradually grow into larger responsibilities and overall philosophies. I’m sure they won’t realize it as it’s happening, but these are the things we hope to instill in our family’s little farmhands.

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.