At the end of the school year, my city-dwelling cousin contacted me and asked if I would be willing to let her 12-year-old come spend a week on our farm during the summer. She wanted him to experience farm life and learn how to work. With some hesitation, we agreed to let him come.

His mom dropped the boy off on a Monday at about 4:45 p.m. I told him to hurry and change his clothes so he could go move pipe. He looked at his watch, looked at me with that, “Don’t you know it’s 5 p.m.?” look on his face. I informed him we hadn’t been finishing up our work until about 10 p.m.

“What a great way to start the week out,” he muttered. I let him in on the little secret this is the daily routine around here in the summer.

One evening, my husband and I were just finishing up a few little chores when we noticed a whole pen of heifers had gotten out. Of course we needed some help, so we told the boys to throw their boots back on and come help. “Isn’t there someone else who can do this?” the boy pleaded.

Nope – all of us were needed. We ran and chased heifers for about an hour, and he wasn’t impressed with our late-night exercise session.


Every time we gave him a job, we came back to find him either sitting on a bucket listening to his music, sitting in the house pretending to have a sprained ankle, arguing about why the job needed to be done or how he had a better way of doing the job. Pretty soon, my boys were having rock, paper, scissors matches to see who had to take him along.

After a few days, I called his mom and mentioned to her that her son didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to work, and as far as I could tell, he wasn’t going to. I told her, “I don’t think he’s having fun at all.” She replied, “We didn’t send him there to have fun. We sent him there to learn to work.”

That’s when I started to realize these people don’t associate work with fun at all. Dairy families work all the time. If we didn’t have fun working, we would have a downright miserable life.

That evening, I sat down with the boy and explained how working can be so rewarding and fun; it gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I encouraged him to dive in, join my boys and see if he could learn some new skills (like how to see if something is out of gas, which he didn’t already know) and how to enjoy the experiences of the day.

Spending time with him made me reflect on my three boys. At about 2 years old, all three of them would lay on the mat at the back door and cry until I either took them to work on the farm or until their dad came and got them. They loved being outside and didn’t want to be trapped in the house, and they still feel the same way today.

Years ago, my then-18-month-old rode in the tractor, in his car seat, with me the whole time I plowed 180 acres and didn’t want to get out after we finished. Most of the concrete mangers around our farm have tiny boy handprints from them playing in wet concrete as it was being poured.

They loved being right in the middle of it all. When they got older, they milked cows all night on Christmas night (and lots of other nights), fed calves, swathed hay and have done all kinds of tasks. Honestly, we couldn’t farm without them.

Farm kids learn to work and enjoy it from a very young age. They don’t complain about getting out of bed to chase escaped cows in the middle of the night or about moving pipe after 5 p.m. or working in the heat of a summer day or the freezing of winter. Complaining won’t make the work easier, disappear or more fun.

The whole experience made me appreciate the opportunity of raising my boys on the farm – even on those years when milk prices are rock-bottom, on the years when every piece of equipment breaks and on the years when we don’t get a day off for months at a time. As I ponder all the memories of working with my boys, I realize just how much fun we’ve had while we were working together. I don’t think there’s a better way to raise kids, and I hope they will always remember to have fun while working.  end mark

Learn more about Engberson’s dairy and find recipes at Little Dairy on the Prairie.

Amy Engberson