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Our farm families — the way farm moms see all the weird and wonderful in them

Jennifer Howard

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Some things distinguish farm families, not just their zip code or IRS status, but subtle, and not so subtle, signs that sometimes only moms are privy to. But they are the essential things that galvanize farm moms and comfort us that we’re not the only ones living the blissful madness.

I have my own experiences as a farm mom, but everyone has so many unique perspectives on what life is like living with a family on a farm. While there are lots of hugs and kisses and taking care of our loved ones, some experiences are a little more … shall we say, unique than what a suburban or urban family might encounter. So we reached out to readers on both Instagram and Facebook to hear your wonderfully wild and hilarious stories. You did not disappoint!

As we prepare to celebrate farm moms this coming Mother’s Day, here’s what people said defines farm family life:

 
 
 
 
 
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1. Laundry

We do a lot of it. Every day it seems, and sometimes twice a day. It can be hard to tell what we’re washing at times because of the ubiquitous coating of mud. Presoak is our friend.

Then there are the pockets. We’d better check them all — pants, hoodies, and coats too, because it’s not only pocket change tagging along. It’s a mixture of the most extraordinary things. Farm pockets can tell some tales. Corn, soybeans, eggs, animal treats, gloves, fence and equipment parts, hay, hypodermic needles, and plain old dirt fill our caches. We check all the pockets or else we will be fishing out the clinking items before the next load.

2. Animals

They shape our schedules, meals, and hearts. We’ve tended and nursed animals day and night, both in our laundry rooms and barns. Animals make elementary school show-and-tell a breeze, science fair projects a layup, and high school biology flat out boring once you’ve watched or assisted just one calving season.

But oh how animals slow us down and make us late to everything. The cows are out: late to school. Pigs got out? Church will have to wait. And the goat? It got on the school bus (again). At times, we see and interact with more cows than people, which can be OK.

Some of our pets are different from those owned by city folks. Sometimes we sheepishly name pets for seasonings, side dishes, and cuts. We all know the difference and purpose of each animal we raise. But we nurture them all with tender hearts. The evidence is the colostrum in the fridge, injection needles on the counter, and hay in our triage mudrooms.

We pray for our animals too, like family at mealtime. And we memorialize some of the more noteworthy ones at death. They are part of our brood — or perhaps we are part of theirs.

 
 
 
 
 
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3. Bodily Functions

Maybe because of animal husbandry, our kids learn functional anatomy fast. Potty training happens indoors and out. Our kids prefer anatomically correct toys and drawings for clarity’s sake. They document and compare developing animal … “parts” for comparison. Straws, tanks, and gloves have a specific and snicker-free connotation on the farm.

And poop. Oh, the conversations about poop. Who’s shoes it’s on, which animal left it on the porch, and the unique lessons about wet vs. dry patties. (Some you can touch and some you can’t.)

4. Shoes

If there’s not something on our shoes, there’s something in them, occasionally it’s a stowaway creature. But our choice of footwear is universal — boots. We own more Muck boots than high heels.

Around the farm, boots are everyone’s first and favorite shoes. We wear them everywhere and with everything — PJs included. Sometimes we even wear our muddy boots to places we shouldn’t, like the school bus and in clean cars. But not to church — and certainly never to Grandma’s!

5. Presentation

How we look matters — depending on what we’re doing. It’s glitz and hairspray for animals and people headed to the show ring. But around the farm, bailing twine functions nicely as a belt, and boots accompanying shorts are just fine. But keep your bathing in the house. The pond, river, or water trough are no substitute for the tub, which is mandatory every day. No questions asked.

 
 
 
 
 
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6. Entertainment

We need clean-up on aisle nine often because our entertainment sources are so unique. Goat pens source the finest mud pies, crop scouting is a treasure hunt, and a trough and winch by the pond easily become a waterpark ride.

Our kids’ favorite screen time revolves around farm equipment demos. Their first (and favorite) book is this year’s Deere product catalog. And late-night cruising means riding with Daddy in the field.

7. Equipment

Our love for equipment is second only to our animals. We love the exhaust of trucks, combines, and tractors. Little ones can discern the difference among them just by sound.

But we’re hard on equipment. We abandon food containers in the tractor cab for weeks at a time and forget that not every vehicle welcomes muddy boots like a chore truck.

But we master our equipment. Kids learn to drive earlier and arguably better than most adults. And we can back anything on a trailer with inches to spare.

8. Schedules

We live differently out here. Work and life bleed together. Dinner hour varies with the workload, maybe 10 or 11 p.m. when it’s a busy season. And it’s hard to prioritize schoolwork vs. fieldwork, because both matter, so fit the chores in before school. But naptime can happen anywhere: in the tractor cab, the garden, the barn, or in a wheelbarrow — if you fit.

We take work breaks when we can, but it’s not often, and never during calving, planting, or harvest times. Vacation sneaks in during the school year when life slows down. And the annual return of the school year signals that we can sleep in “late” until 6 now.

 
 
 
 
 
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9. Phone calls

What sets farm families apart most, perhaps in school administrators’ eyes, are the phone calls. Teachers call to inquire about a comment, observation, or conversation they heard: first-grade girls reprimanded for toting pink pocket knives, dismissive comments about vet-diagnosed ringworm, and unusual reports of “what I did this weekend/summer.” Not every class is prepared for the hog castrating and stuffed animal AI demonstrations kindergarteners are well-equipped to share.


Raising a farm family is different. And different is good. Farm moms were made for mud and multitasking. We intervene with the toddlers bringing a calf in for a nap or sharing a salt lick. We nurse our own babies in the field and celebrate the seasons of life around our hallowed kitchen tables.

The days are long and the years most certainly short. But who would trade them? Farm kids grow up to make us proud by living out the legacy or starting their own. And it’s owed to the unique glue farm moms provide. It’s one that sticks family and communities together for good. This Mother’s Day, we raise a toast to you, farm moms. We humbly apologize for our pockets and thank you for making farm life worth living.

 

Jennifer Howard is a small farm owner and agricultural writer from the heart of North Carolina. She is a soil-first advocate, closet flower farmer, and lover of pollinators. Find her on LinkedIn @agwriterjenniferhoward.

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