Farm Boy Work

July 20, 2009
By

I think it isn’t shocking to say that our culture at large has a very strong  hatred of  good honest work.  As a culture, we relish what is faster-quicker-easier…  The word “work” invokes the thought of having to exert too much energy, too much commitment…too much stick-to-it-tivity.    It means I actually have to focus on something, exert mental and physical energy and put heart into something from start to finish.   

Many of our grandparents were farm kids who knew what real, hard work was.  It is a far cry from today’s sports and video game consumed boys.  Valuable life lessons are lost when boys focus on play rather than consume a regular diet of honest, hard work.   Boys need responsibility, working by the sweat of their brow, seeing a task through from start to finish.  They learn to love and appreciate work, understaning it’s importance. 

I love reading old stories to my children about “work”…good old fashion work ethic!  We’ve read many books like, “Farmer Boy” which portrays boyhood work as a part of every day life.  The most recent family reading book my husband has been reading out-loud to us is called, “Every Farm Tells a Story” by Jerry Apps.  It has many wonderful stories about good boyhood work.  We’ve been enjoying it immensely as a family as we laugh and relate to Mr. Apps’ childhood stories about growing up on a family dairy farm in Wisconsin. 

Chores started on the home farm when you were around four years old, depending on, as Pa would say, “how much meat you have on your bones.”….By the time you were five, you moved up to feeding the chickens and gathering eggs….The ultimate chores took place in the cow barn.  Milking cows by hand ranked number one.  Other prestigious chores included forking hay from the haymow in ten-below-zero temperature, with frost hanging from the cobwebs and brushing you in the face; shoveling manure from the barn gutters into the manure carrier; cleaning out the calf pen; and throwing silage down from the top of the silo….Ma and Pa raised us to work together, play together and live together.  We helped each other, depended on each other and at times defended each other….

Our children have especially enjoyed the age-appropriate chores Mr. Apps shares in his book.  I’ll  list off some examples of work these boys did and at what age…it is really amazing!

“Chores were and important part of our growing up years…”.

“We learned not to complain about work.  We learned to show up on time, every time, day in and day out, including weekends.  And we took pride in what we were doing.  Chores were not drudgery, at least not on the farm where I grew up.”

  • By the time you were 6 or 7, you helped pick the smaller stones (out of the field before the crops could be planted). 
  • When you were 10 or 12, you drove the team while sitting on the disk harrow or you walked behind the drag while a dust cloud swirled around you. 
  • You became a serious hoer when you were 7 or 8. 
  • By the age of 12 or so, you were cultivating potatoes with one horse and a walking cultivator. 
  • By the time you were 10, you were driving the horses and performing simple tasks like handling the team while Pa pitched hay. 
  • When you were 12 or so, you were pitching hay along with Pa. 
  • By the time you were 14, you were driving a team on the threshing crew. 
  • By age 12, you husked corn by hand for the hogs after school, often a wagon load every afternoon. 
  • By the time I was 12, I put every nickel I earned toward buying books.  I didn’t yet understand Pa’s good times-bad times theory (of saving some money for the bad times to get you through until the good times roll around again). 


We have a long way to go to recapture what it means to work hard and to embrace it.  But is no secret that we live in a day and age of wimpy boys, who don’t know what a hard days work really looks like, couldn’t defend the family if they had to, haven’t a clue about how to produce or hunt food and couldn’t save a nickel if they wanted to. 

Moving to a farm was one of the best decisions we ever made!