By Ruth Topper
I am a farmer’s daughter – the youngest of three girls in my family. As a child, I didn’t realize all the unique experiences that growing up on a farm provided. My playground was 105 acres of farmland in North Central Pennsylvania. My dad was born and raised on the farm. By the time my sisters and I came along he worked a “day job” and farmed on the side. One of the exciting things about growing up on a farm was the animals. Over the years we had cows, pigs, chickens, geese, rabbits, etc. These animals provided plenty of childhood memories along with instilling a work ethic very early in life.
My kids discovered a small taste of this work ethic when we added our dog, Fletcher, to our family a few years ago. Pets do need some caretaking! When I hear complaining that no one wants to take Fletcher out for a walk, get his food or fill up his water bowl I remind them that they were the ones who really wanted a dog and they agreed to help take care of him. I get the “rolling of the eyes” if I even try to take them back to what it was like growing up on a farm and taking care of numerous animals and pets! Perhaps you will get more enjoyment out of my farm animal stories!
The Cows: Daisy Mae, Sally and “Store Milk” vs. “Our Milk”
By the age of 10 it wasn’t unusual to be out helping “round up” the cows who had broken through the electric fencing. We only raised one steer per year. We didn’t get too close to them because, unfortunately, they would then become dinner! After my dad retired (when I was in early elementary school) he did get a “milk” cow for a few years. Daisy Mae and Sally were the two “milk” cows that I remember. By this time I was old enough to know that we had purchased “store milk” for many years but now had our own milk. I vividly remember pouring milk from a pitcher onto my cereal in the morning and a big clump of cream landing in my bowl first… yuck! On the other hand, we had several years of making the best homemade ice cream on summer Sunday afternoons!
Which Came First: The Chicken or the Egg?
One spring there was only one chick that hatched from all the eggs that the mother hen was sitting on. So my dad decided to bring that chick to the house for us to take care of. We named the chick Frances because we weren’t sure if we had a hen or rooster! But Frances turned out to be a girl! She was a “Banty” hen and laid eggs with light green shells. FYI – “Banties” are a smaller breed of chicken and some breeds do lay light green or blue eggs. We had several different kinds of chickens so the variety of egg sizes and colors made for a great 6th grade science fair project. Also–did you know that sometimes a chicken will lay an egg that doesn’t have a shell? It feels a little odd when you pick that up out of the nest!
At one time we had a few geese running loose around the farm. I remember my mom backing out of our carport and running over one of them. Needless to say, guess what we had for dinner that night?!
The Pigs: Liz and her Namesake
They loved to lie on their sides and have you rub their bellies–just like dogs! I remember at least one litter of piglets being born on the farm. They were so cute! Maybe the funniest “pig story” revolves around my Aunt Elizabeth, who lived in the big city of Germantown, MD. She would come to visit us for most major holidays. And she was truly honored, thrilled even, when we named a pig “Liz” after her.
“Lucky” the Lamb
One of our neighbors raised sheep, so when a mama sheep died after giving birth to her lamb, he brought the lamb to our house for us to take care of. I named the lamb “Lucky” and enjoyed coming home from school to bottle feed her. Unfortunately Lucky caught a cold (or some “bug”) and only lived about a week after we got her – not so “lucky” after all. That was the reality of life on a farm sometimes.
Rabbits, Cats and a Collie to Herd them All
A neighbor once gave us an Angora rabbit mother with her babies. They were so soft to hold! Speaking of animals with fur, we always had plenty of cats on the farm. It wasn’t unusual to have 10 or 20 cats lounging on the porch, in the yard or barn–but they were never allowed in the house! But we all had a soft spot for one animal in particular, our wonderful dog. Whitie was a border collie mix that was given to us by a neighboring farmer. She wins the award by far for being our favorite farm animal. As wonderful as it was to be surrounded by so many creatures, there was nothing like the love of “man’s best friend.”
Speaking of dogs, I think my kids “have it easy,” just taking care of one dog, compared to my childhood responsibilities!
Do you have similar memories of growing up on a farm? Or does your family live on a farm today? Feel free to share your experiences below.