For farm families, the holiday season is much as it is for everyone else: lots of food, family, laughter, good times, and memories. The key difference is that we schedule meals and family gatherings around feeding times. Also, most of our Christmas card photos have animals in them. This time of year, we frequently tell each other, “farmers don’t get a day off,” to remind ourselves that we still have work to do.
Most farm kids are accustomed to the routine of going to the barn before school or other activities, but on Christmas morning, it’s rather difficult not to peek at what Santa Claus left on the way out to feed the animals.
One year when I was about nine, my dad brought home 15 jersey calves to bottle feed over the Christmas break. Our neighbor bought a dairy farm earlier that year and was struggling to adjust. So my dad, the helpful farmer, said his girls would love this and brought the calves home that night.
Now growing up as a “farm girl” in a small town means I’ve spent many federal holidays doing farm related activities, from helping friends pick up eggs in a chicken house to cutting trees off the road after a tornado because we need to get hay out to the cattle. Our holiday memories include fixing miles of fences and moving hay equipment from field to field. So helping people who was (and still is) nothing new, but these little calves were a full-time job.
The morning after the calves arrived, Mom woke us up at 5:30 a.m. to get bottles ready, so we could go to the barn to feed at 6 a.m. The calves were on a 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. feeding schedule, and we still had our show heifers to feed before school that day. My sister and I never claimed to be morning people, so this was a rude awakening for us. (We were accustomed to running to the barn and feeding our show heifers on the way to school.) Mom still talks about how this was one of the worst mornings ever. We finally made all the bottles. It took us a couple of trips to get everything to the barn. (The details are foggy.) We fed all the hungry calves and show heifers and somehow managed to make it to school on time.
Finally, the week of Christmas, school was out, and fortunately our cousins were coming into town for several days. My sister and I were looking forward to some much needed reinforcements. Our cousins aren’t farm kids, but they like to help when they visit. So my sister and I decided our cousins could take over the morning feedings, and we’d cover the night feedings since all of our friends wanted to come see the baby calves.
Well, you can imagine how that worked out. My sister and I were still up at 5:30am every morning to feed our little herd of calves, while everyone else was still asleep. Christmas morning was no exception.
This holiday season, remember the farmers and ranchers who are still out working while everyone else is at home with their families. Thank them when you are enjoying your turkey, sweet potatoes, dressing, and homemade pies because they harvested the crops and produced the poultry that you enjoy with your families. And if you get bored and want something to do, stop by and offer a hand. We’ll take your help especially during early morning feedings.