Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. The turkey, the pies, the stuffing are just a few things that cannot be beat.
It’s also the beginning of the holiday season that has me consumed with gratitude as we spend more time with family, reflect on the year and our wishes for the time ahead. In the thick of motherhood, I am also reminded of our village who are helping raise our two rambunctious Coyne boys, including those who have exposed them to the core of the dairy industry.
Like many of Bentley, 3, and Declan’s, 1, peers, by happenstance their daily exposure to farming is limited, yet the need to understand who produces their food and how is ever more important. We’ve been blessed with family, friends, neighbors and simply good farmers who have helped make this understanding fun and memorable.
Over the past 18 months, visiting my in-laws in Wisconsin has come with the usual goodness of spending time with family paired with the added importance of caring for animals. At some point during the spring of 2020, my father-in-law began milking cows. They have always raised a few heifers but typically find more permanent housing for them once they come into milk.
Two years ago, that was not the case and hasn’t been since.
Now, every visit over the border has involved packing barn clothes and waking early so Bentley can milk cows with Grandpa Peter. Even the few sleepovers Bentley has had with them are consumed with prepping the cows, feeding the calves and making sure the animals are well bedded and fed using Grandpa Peter’s tractor.
It’s fun to return home and have Bentley spot a dairy farm on our travels to and from daycare, only to ask if Grandpa Peter is up milking cows too.
We attended a family wedding this past summer that allowed us a few minutes to catch up with good friends in western Wisconsin. As we visited at their home, Willie and the farmer took Bentley to see their dairy barn, equipped with robotic milking systems and other automation.
While our then-2-year-old was silently in awe of the operation, he was quick to take note.
To this day, if an advertisement of an automated feed pusher or milking robot is displayed in any print publication nearby Bentley’s potty-training chair, he is quick to point out that, “Those robots are on Matt’s farm.”
More locally, we have had both neighbors and complete strangers offer to expose our little ones to farming.
There was the Saturday morning when the boys and I brought farmers market donuts to a nearby dairy where Willie was trimming.
For a few minutes, we watched the cows go through the chute. It was not long before a family member invited Bentley on a tractor ride around the farm. And still today, he will bring up that experience as we watch their cows on pasture when passing by.
Early on in the fall, I wrote an article on the drought conditions in Minnesota and interviewed a farm family in the central part of the state. They live nearby, so when it came time to schedule photos to accompany the article, it was convenient to bring the kids with me prior to starting our day at daycare and the office.
While I took photos of the fields, Bentley tagged along with Suzanne as she showed him their milking robots and the cows eating their morning helping of TMR. The farm stop concluded with Richard checking in on Declan who was waiting patiently in his car seat.
And, I’d be failing myself not to mention the numerous neighbors who have offered the boys tractor rides as we watched them complete fall harvest while on our own stroller rides down the country roads.
The interactions have been both brief and detailed, and planned and in passing, but nonetheless appreciated. While the boys might not let on to how these interactions influence them, Willie and I know it is making a difference in how they understand the importance of agriculture and a dairy farmer’s purpose in our busy, busy world. Case in point, we took steers to the butcher shop and told Bentley the cows were giving us hamburger. He stoutly corrected us, “No, cows give milk.” We’ll tackle that conversation another day.
There is nothing Bentley and Declan enjoy more than playing tractors and feeding their small herd of plastic Red and White cows a square bale of hay (Legos) or carpet farming white kidney beans with a combine. They find amusement in driving through the countryside and pointing out who is in the field with what tractor or whose cows are grazing the fence line.
The boys are young and their interests may change as they grow older, but I hope their appreciation for the American dairy farmer never fades. And as for us parents, we are especially grateful for you amidst this season of life.