Monday, July 19, 2010

The Circle of Life

My daughter is five, just a few weeks shy of entering kindergarten. Although I do not consider her "worldly" (i.e., she still believes in Santa, still thinks maybe she'll marry her daddy, etc.), she has experienced a lot about the cyclical way life is, thanks to her upbringing on this farm.

So, for everyone who is dreading having discussions with his or her children regarding the birds and the bees or life and death, bring 'em out to the farm! A few days with cattle, an experience (or two) with the results fast traffic has on a gravel road, and my matter of fact husband will make those questions go away!!

In all seriousness, however, life on a livestock farm does lend itself to understanding the basic concepts of this short life we lead. Now, does it put it in a way that I necessarily would have chosen? Probably not. My town girl attitude about discussing sex with my daughter did not include a graphic explanation of a bull atop a heifer at Pappy's farm. As my wide eyed five year old was explaining what the bull was DOING to the heifer, at the dinner table, no less (!!), my mind was racing on how to make this more like an after school special and less like Animal Planet. I was searching for a second in the conversation where I could add in that that particular heifer had waited for the right bull to come along, committed to him for life (in a ceremony in the pasture), and they were living happily ever after. Nowhere was this moment!! Instead, Joe interjected with a discussion on how our cows are bred the same way so that we can have good calves in the early spring. Discussion over. Now, we didn't relate it to men and women, but Anna now has a set of information that I never had. She's going to understand reproduction as, well, a means of reproduction, not a Lady Gaga music video. Whew for that, I guess.

As for life and death, my girls also have very concrete understanding of this cycle. We watch calves being born out our family room window, on a nightly basis in the spring. Joe usually is giving the play-by-play. . . "Oh! There's the feet!" or "Well, she's ready, her water bag is out." As I am trying to find the remote to turn up the volume on the TV, completely grossed out by this, the girls are eating it up! Anna has been in the calving barn when a calf was just born, learning to walk. How amazing! She's not grossed out by this miracle. They understand that birth is amazing, and happens every day to nearly every being.

In a similar, matter of fact way, the farm, particularly a livestock farm, is a place to get a very matter of fact understanding of the inevitable. The girls have had to bury two dogs and even a cat, thanks to the bizarrely fast traffic on our gravel road and coyotes. But their skill set is not just limited to pets. They, at 5 and 3, understand that our cattle are being raised to help feed people, and that in order to do that, they must die. It's very blunt, but why beat around the bush and make up a goofy story about the beef fairy or something. Now, I'm not saying you need to take your kids to the locker plant and watch a butchering. . .I don't even do that, but as humans we need protein (sorry vegetarians. .. tune out for a minute, or tune in and be informed!), and a great source of this is beef. We take great care of our animals, and Joe even breeds his stock to be perfect, but perfect for good, quality meat. A grade "A" product, if you will. The girls understand that Daddy's livelihood is to grow good crops, raise good cows, and then harvest them both. End of story.

I am sure we'll still have long conversations about really tough topics, and I know I will have my after school special moments with my girls. But for now, as it should be, they are learning from their environment, taking in every excited bull they can see!


  1. I have five and seven year old daughters learning the same lessons as yours. Great story about life on the farm and sometimes even the dinner table! ;-)


  2. I agree completely with your comment that there is no better place to learn life lessons than on the farm. I'll never forget the first time I saw a baby lamb being born. Such great learning lessons.
    a Latte with Ott, A

  3. Great post. Adam (at 2) already knows the difference between turkeys who are "night-night" and turkeys who are "died."

    Loved your vegetarian comment. :)