One of the reasons homesteaders and farmers decide to live the lifestyle they do is because they feel their legacy of hard work and productiveness is something valuable they can share with their children and grandchildren.
In a recent interview I listened to, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms shared a perspective that has enormous value for those of us mentoring and raising farm kids in an increasingly modern world: Our kids are smart and want to grow up to be like us. Salatin suggested offering children opportunities to be part of our lives and to be present with us, working and experiencing life on a homestead or farm. Wherever we are—in the kitchen, in the garden, doing various household chores —we can make our home our center by including our children in our work. Home is not a pit stop, he observed.
As I’ve talked with other homesteaders and farmers about how they teach kids responsibility and hard work on the farm, they’ve all echoed Salatin’s words. Whether you’re homesteading on a couple acres or 500, we must involve our children in the nitty-gritty of what we do.
My Children’s Animal Chores
One way to cultivate passion for farm life is to assign your children chores in accordance with their age and personality. First, list out kids and their ages, and then think though the daily animal chores. Consider which chore might be reasonably accomplished by each child. My biggest problem with the chores is that I always underestimate my kids. Although we need to be aware of and respect their abilities and interests, our children will rise up to our expectations if we’re consistent.
Below are examples of current chores performed by my children. I included some garden chores because we grow food and fodder for the animals. We write these chores on the house chore list so everyone can see who is doing what and help keep one another accountable.
6-year-old: gathers eggs; refills nest boxes with pine shavings as needed; runs tools and smoker fuel when beekeeping
8-year-old: heads up garden maintenance; keeps tabs on harvesting and weeding needs; heads up chick care with help from siblings; runs tools and smoker fuel when beekeeping (The eight year old is my most naturally responsible, self-motivated and work-oriented child, so I move her duties around a lot.)
10-year-old: fills feed and water for laying hens; takes out kitchen scraps daily; helps examine comb and lift out honey during beekeeping
12-year-old: feeds and waters goats; helps examine comb and lift out honey during beekeeping
Whole family: cleans coop; mucks barn; takes part in egg incubation chores; cultivates, harvests and measures animal feed from the garden; beekeeping
Tips From Other Farmers
I was curious what animal-care chores worked for other families, so I asked some homesteading friends for their insights.
Brandon Sutter of Lonestar Farmstead
“Our children have gained their animal education simply from the fact that we require them to help with chores every day and they are required to be present when I perform other chores that they do not do, such as the hoof-trimming. Also, our children recently joined 4-H, so there will be some knowledge from those programs as well. With our homeschooling curriculum, they have science/biology courses that often cover things they then see in action with the animals. I believe that learning the routines, chores and animal care makes them more responsible and teaches good work ethics.”
Teri Page of Homestead Honey
“We use a combination of chores and observation. They [a 4-year-old and 7-year-old] are responsible for certain animal chores, such as feeding chickens and cats, but they also observe us caring for all of the animals on our farm, so they learn a lot just by watching. We have had great experiences letting our children care for baby chicks and ducklings. As long as the kids are gentle, we give them holding and petting time, which gives them good experiences and also socializes the poultry. Just be certain that your children know that some plants can be toxic to animals. We don’t let our kids feed our animals plants that they cannot identify. (Food scraps are fine.)”
Jenna Dooley of The Flip Flop Barnyard
Jenna’s children range in ages from newborn to 12 years old.
“We use hands-on supervised guidance to train the children in how to properly handle the baby animals. We teach them not to squeeze the chicks. When the pigs are still babies, we let them pet them but they do not handle them a lot. They also help bottle-feed the calf sometimes. As the children get older, they are assigned specific chores for caring for the animals. They learn to be gentle, caring and compassionate from handling the animals. It has been such a joy as a parent to watch them grow in character as they care for the animals and take on responsibility. Learning from a young age that you hold the responsibility for something else in your hands is a wonderful trait-builder.”
So much of what you decide to do will be animal and child specific, but I hope this has given you a bit of inspiration as you seek to involve your kids more in the actual work of the farm, especially with the animals.
Get more ideas for farm chores on HobbyFarms.com:
- 5 Farm Chores Your Kids Will Say “Yes!” To
- 6 Coop-Winterizing Chores
- 5 Garden Chores To Jumpstart the Growing Season