Raising Our Kids Alongside the Calves

When we were dating I specifically asked Brad if he had any intention of being a farmer.

No, he said unequivocally.

Oh good! I did not want to marry a farmer. The seasons are long. The work is hard. The risks are great.

Carry on then! I said to our dating status. No worries.


We didn’t want to be farmers, but we were still countrykids. Open skies and fresh air felt right when we looked for a place to call home. Eventually we settled in between the cornfields only a handful of miles away from the farms where we spent our childhoods.

We had a long list of reasons not to get livestock. Brad had developed an allergy late in high school and could barely walk into the barn without triggering a reaction. We both had other interests too. We didn’t want the hassle. The mess. We’d experienced all that when we showed cattle growing up in 4H and FFA. We just didn’t want to go through all of it again.

But we kept finding our oldest in Grandpa’s barn. When she tamed a baby calf, rumor started going around that she would surely have to start showing cattle. She was a natural.

And she was smitten.


The first year we resisted. The calf stayed at grandpa’s house and Sophie and her dad would head over there regularly for chores or to spend time working with him. It’s not that she didn’t have any other interests, but as Little Black grew she was there consistently, learning how to lead and wash.

But this is too expensive! I argued. We can’t afford it. We can’t compete with the big spenders! This is a game we don’t want to enter because we can’t win. Remember losing all the time, Brad?! Don’t you remember? He remembered.

We can’t afford it. We can’t compete with the big spenders! This is a game we don’t want to enter because we can’t win. Remember losing all the time, Brad?! Don’t you remember?! He remembered.

He remembered.


As the year progressed and Sophie and the calf grew in capability and strength, I watched in wonder. As the fair approached and we discussed the reality of where LB would place, I discovered Sophie had a different take on the whole experience.: “I’m not gonna win, Mom. I know that! That’s not why I’m here. I just love it.”

I watched her enter the ring, nervous but sure. I wached her shake the hand of the judge and talk softly to her animal. I watched as she recovered from getting stepped on and went back into the ring, dried tears stained on her dusty cheeks. I watched as she graciously congratulated winners and cared for her calf on those long hot July days.

And I knew we couldn’t go back.

She was 10. She was only 10 and here she was answering questions and taking responsibility. Here she was teaching me how to lose graciously and stand tall with the knowledge you did your best. Here she was wiping away tears and silently grieving when her steer was driven off not to return. Here she was making plans for the next year and dreaming about a small herd of her own. Planning. Learning. Picking herself back up when necessary and relentlessly trying again.

Here she was showing me what she could do.

Showing the world.


4H farm kids are learning lessons you can't replicate


This year we took 3 head of cattle to the fair. Sophie is 13 now and teaching her younger sister the ropes. She’s learning about calving-ease and genetic tendencies. We still can’t afford this “hobby,” but now we can’t afford to quit.

We never wanted to farm. Farming is hard and exhausting and involves so much risk. But it teaches lessons that raise kids who dream big and recover with pride. It’s responsibility and perseverance; it’s work ethic and confidence. It’s life-changing and a treasure we didn’t know we had. Reluctantly raising our kids alongside the calves in the barn might be the best decision we finally gave into.


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