I am responsible for the morning milking on Saturday mornings, so my children stay home in bed and Keith brings them over later. What could be a quiet time has become something much more amusing as of late. Last Saturday with it being the second week of deer camp, I had a plethora of cousins at the cabin for hunting. Their children come with so they can ride their four-wheelers around and hang out in the barn with me.
    Our farm is their only concrete agricultural connection. They soak everything up like sponges. One cousin, now 15, would spend a week with us in the summer when he was younger. Kyle was up to the barn searching me out Saturday morning, ready to help. All of the observation and training in his youth has paid off. He was a Godsend that morning. He was strong enough to help pull a calf, had the patience to feed a newborn, the good sense to help with a hard calving and stay aware and safe, and was willing to help with anything. Garrett, at only 8 years old, was our entertainment that morning. His constant barrage of questions kept me on my toes. His bellowing sympathy pains when I was pulling a calf were hysterical. He wanted so badly to be able to help with big kid jobs that I told him he had to start with spraying down the parlor and scraping manure and work his way up. This seemed to pacify him this year. I did let him help pull the calf a bit, enough to see his face screw up into an expression of complete disturbance and awe at the process.
    My steadier Saturday morning sidekicks are two young neighbor girls. Stella, 8, and Brynn, 6, are early risers and willing to come to the farm and help me in the quiet of the morning. They ask intuitive questions and listen to the answers. I have heard my answers come back out of their mouths at various times, which reaffirms my belief that a million questions are worth answering if kids listen.
    They trade off Saturdays, and I am told by their mom that they look forward to it all week long. Brynn has been known to have her barn clothes laid out for five days in anticipation of Saturday morning. She has the mind of a scientist. The questions she asks are probing, and she is not satisfied with a sugar-coated response. We discuss why we do not keep all the bulls and what steers are. Her favorite line is that Bull (our dog) is the only bull on the farm. She can explain verbatim the definition of a DA, is eager to pull a calf (provided she can name it) and has no qualms about anything slightly gross. We have had to talk about why some sick cows need to be put down, and she is well on her way to identifying a cow in labor. I have to gently restrain her when we walk cows, because she has no fear of them, and the cows are not sure if she is a joke or not when she is scolding them. She has declared red and white cows her favorite animal, and for Christmas she asked for a cow. I think she has caught the farming bug.
    I have told Stella as soon as she is old enough to drive the gator up the hill, she is hired. One of my favorite Saturday memories with her was a few months ago when we had a day of chaos. She was walking to search out a sick cow with me when we bumped into Peter in the barn. He asked her if being in the barn this early in the morning was punishment or prize. Stella smirked and answered prize. That day, she witnessed us running an IV on a down cow and then carrying her in the skid steer to the grass. She had the idea to grab the mint udder lotion, after remembering that it helps mastitis cows. I let her sleeve up and help pull a calf, and she was right in there, not a whisper of disgust. She is catching on to milking. When I have calm cows, she is fine to milk one start to finish on her own.
    I have had to call them to come and help us chase the heifers from the pasture down the road on short notice, knowing they can handle a few yells and can direct an animal. For play toys, I dropped off plastic sleeves and syringes for them. Kelly, their mom, sent me text messages that those things had them playing farm all afternoon with their younger sister, Tassia. Imitation is the highest form of flattery they say, and those girls were pretending they were Stacy, Melanie and me. Brynn has even convinced her friends to play farm at recess, with one being a wild heifer that kicked (that was a true story the previous Saturday). Stella has been with me as we had to make a life decision on our cow Old Sow and saw a cow in those moments after life leaves the body. Kelly and Craig are incredible neighbors and thank me for taking their girls to the barn. In reality, it is I who must thank them. Stella and Brynn’s questioning only gives me energy and helps me to look at the farm and all that goes on through less jaded, less tired eyes. They play great with the boys and help look after Cora. Eager helpers asking for explanations of the most mundane tasks fills my bucket.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (11), Dane (9), Henry (4) and Cora (adventurous crawler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.