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Mother’s Day Column: Animal Care Through the Eyes of Farm Moms
May 10, 2015

Having just kidded a half dozen dairy goats in as many days, the drill is fresh in my mind: Monitors on to hear (and sometimes see) what’s going on in the barn at all hours of the day or night; frequent walks back and forth, pacing like a nervous father in the delivery room.

 The trick is not to interfere until needed, but with domesticated livestock it is important and rewarding to be there for the grand event, getting mom and baby off to a good start.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I spoke with five farm moms about their trio of responsibilities — family, farm animals and food production. Their responses reveal deep passion rooted in practicality and purpose.

“Becoming a mother changes a woman like nothing else. I want nothing but the best and healthiest for my children,” said Beth Chittenden, a dairy producer near Schodack Landing. “When they are sick, I want them to feel better. When they are cold, I want to warm them. When they are happy, I rejoice. On a farm, we have the joy of watching new life begin every day. As a mother, we want the same love and care for the animals as we do our own children.”

Vanessa Worden sees similar parallels at the dairy farm near Cassville. “I want to do my best with both the children and the calves,” she said. “While there are certainly some major differences, the sense of failure runs deep when I lose a calf I’ve worked hard to save. I see that kindness toward animals in our sons and daughter and now in our grandson too.”

For Deb Windecker of Frankfort, she sees “the power of observation as a key on the dairy farm. As a mom, we have the maternal instinct to know when our child or animal isn’t quite right. When children and animals are not interested in eating, you immediately start observing what is wrong to address the problem,” she said. “Losing a favorite animal is hard for children, but they learn lessons in the “circle of life” — that when an animal passes, a new life is born — just like for us.”

She relates how her son’s best friend had brain cancer at the age of 7. “The farm was this little boy’s sanctuary and he was always caring for the animals and never thinking of his own illness,” Deb explained. “When his friend passed away, my son had a deep understanding of loss because of life on the farm.”

For Anne Burkholder, a Nebraska beef producer, the situation is different because she doesn’t have a cowherd. For her, it’s like having kindergartners come together away from their moms to learn and grow.

“I have always loved animals and the moment I became a mother, the need to nurture was raised to a new level. While I view my children very differently from my animals at the feedyard, good care is a universal component in all of these relationships because I have the responsibility (and joy) of caring for all of them,” Anne said, explaining that healthy and well-cared for cattle make healthy and safe beef that will nurture her own children as well as children all over the world.

“Each and every mother takes on a large responsibility when they bring a child into the world — a mother who is a farmer takes on an even larger responsibility because her ‘other job’ as a food animal caregiver will touch the lives of many children outside of her own family,” said Anne. “My daughters are truly the best thing that I have done in my life. My work on the farm, caring for cattle and raising beef, comes in a close second.”

Talking to farm moms, there is an obvious passion for animals and for the bonds created when producing safe and nutritious food for their own families and the rest of us.

“Living on a farm has great rewards, however with that comes difficult situations as well,” Beth observed. “Nothing is more pleasing than watching youngsters find the joy of animals. They become their friends, buddies and companions. And farm kids also learn about the cycle of life at an early age. I do not shelter my children from this. We look at the joy we had and the care they were given while they were here. Kids learn respect and responsibility by loving animals, but they also understand that nothing lasts forever.”

Seeing her grandson interact with calves while she’s feeding is a special blessing for Vanessa. “We see the respect our grown children have for animals and their appreciation for life and for the simple things,” she said. “We care for the animals and they care for us. We want their life to be as good as it can be because we respect, appreciate and rely on them.”

“Children who grow up on a farm understand responsibility and gain a strong sense of compassion,” said Anne. “They develop a deep appreciation for their food and the animals that give their lives to provide life-giving nutrition. They see firsthand the joy, the sweat and the tears that go into growing food.”

Tina Douglas, a dairy producer near Ilion, said her children learn early on that family barn chores come first before the household. “We make sure all animals are fed and bedded for the night before leaving the barn for our own dinner,” she explained. “If any animal needs special attention, we do the best to accommodate her. We work as a team, including repairing equipment and other breakdowns. The kids learn problem-solving.”

Beth noted that one of her greatest conversations with non-farm moms is in describing how fortunate she feels to watch new life begin. “To see how that creature has its own personality.” Though they are food animals, the cattle really are like family.

“Sharing your personal story as a farmer opens up your life — your goals, your dreams, your challenges and your family,” said Anne. “There is a vulnerability that goes with that transparency. I include my daughters and they learn to share what is most important to our family.”

By Sherry Bunting
Source: Columbia-Greene Media Register-Star


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