Much as they love their children, many parents don’t involve them in the daily labor of life. The exception to that statement tends to occur on a ranch or farm. There are quite a few projects that require all hands on deck. There’s a deeper issue here, though. Children who are involved and have their own projects learn important skills. If you want the ranch to stay in the family for several generations, the kids need to learn to love the land and the work. Of course, that means you need to be able to work with one or more children tagging along. It also means you need to be hyper-alert, because there are a fair number of things on a ranch that can be dangerous – such as heavy equipment, large animals, over-protective ganders and, in my part of the country, rattlesnakes.
Kids don’t pay attention, they tend to jump into things and very few are perfectly obedient. So the parent has to take extra precautions to keep them safe; this slows down the work, but the trade-off is kids who are deeply involved in the life of the ranch. Working with the children also offers you a chance to have fascinating discussions and do some on-the-spot teaching. For example, yesterday and today I fielded the following questions and expanded on several topics in the process of answering.
“What plants have black flowers?” Botany.
“What is that goose doing?” Bird self-grooming and using body oils to prevent water-logged feathers.
“What’s that big grey bird?” Great blue herons and ornithology.
“How many teats does a cow/pig/kangaroo have?” Animal reproduction.
“Why do you shovel the dirt in one day and out the next?” Principles of flood irrigation and ditch maintenance.
“Why is the calf eating poop?” The effect of healthy gastrointestinal flora on digestion in the ruminant.
When you do you chores with children in tow, they will interrupt, distract and annoy you. They will fight over whose turn it is to open the gate, push and shove to sit on the milking stool or have extensive metaphysical arguments over whether ghosts have legs. They will also, however, learn to recognize noxious weeds (“Stop, Nana, there’s a star thistle you need to get!”) and know whether the cow is eating well (“Maybelle’s rumen is full, isn’t it, Nana?”). They will copy what you do – if you yell at your animals, so will the kids. If you treat animals with firm kindness, so will the kids. They absorb, with very little actual teaching, thousands of bits of knowledge about ranching, animal husbandry, food preservation, gardening and the world of nature. When the time comes for you to step back and hand the ranch over to them, they will be well-prepared.
Doing chores with children is well worth the effort.