Holidays usually include travel to be with family, but farmers have animals to take care of 24/7. There are cows to be milked, eggs to gather, pastures to rotate, farm dogs to pet, and of course, everyone needs to be fed. So how do Organic Valley farmers celebrate the holidays on the farm? Read a few of their stories to find out.
Bring the Family to the Farm
Thelma Heidel-Baker and Ricky Baker, Wisconsin
It’s hard for us to go other places because we have animals here to take care of. So, we thought, why not invite everybody to the farm? It’s now become a tradition, and our family members coming from more urban areas especially enjoy visiting the farm at this time of year.
The loudest chorus is always from the kids: "We want to go outside and see the animals!"
Our daughter is obsessed with cats, so she has to show all her cousins every barn cat: Olivia, Otis, Harry and Sweetie Pie... Whether you like it or not you’ll get a complete rundown on every single cat!
We have 40 to 70 laying hens, all different breeds. The kids love to collect the eggs. They all have their favorites and are amazed to discover that different breeds of chicken lay different color eggs: green, blue, white or brown.
This will be our fourth year of Family on the Farm. We always send people home with food we’ve grown, raised or collected on the farm: maple syrup, eggs and, of course, Organic Valley butter that was made from our cows’ cream!
A Night in the Barn
Emily and Joseph Donegan, Vermont
Each Christmas Eve, our family heads out to the barn where we make ourselves cozy in sleeping bags on top of a pile of hay. By flashlight, we read the story of the first Christmas, and hearing the sounds of the animals’ gentle chewing helps us to more fully imagine the scene as it was at Jesus’ birth. It makes us thankful not only for our farm and the animals that provide for us, but also for the true gifts that still come down to us from that first silent night.
On Christmas Day the kids wake up to the sounds of morning milking instead of presents under the tree. We decided a long time ago that we wanted to sidestep the commercial trap of contemporary Christmas gift-giving. It took some time in prayer to find the right tradition to replace it with: the gift of a special experience together as a family, and a manger for a bed.
Theresa Westaby, Illinois
Holidays are a great time for families to get together. However, animals don't recognize holidays and their care doesn't either. Around our farm, we try to have lunch around 1:00 so that we can finish the morning milking, get the cows out, and clean and bed the barn. We eat lunch, visit, relax, then at 4:00 p.m., we go out and get the cows back off pasture and into the barn for night milking. For the guys, it's pretty much the same routine. For me, it's days of controlled chaos making pies, turkey or ham, rolls, potatoes, veggies, cleaning the house, setting tables, cleaning up, plus doing my own farm chores. Going away to someone's house isn't really any better because we're in a complete rush to get there in time and have to leave earlier to get back home for the animals.
"For me, it's days of controlled chaos making pies, turkey or ham, rolls, potatoes, veggies, cleaning the house, setting tables, cleaning up, plus doing my own farm chores."
The problem is that milking the cows is the most important job on the farm. Where we live, hiring someone to milk for you just isn't smart or easy. One of us always has to be here, so it's just easier to rush back and do the job.
Is it worth it? Yes, because there is something special about being with family and also being outside in winter wishing my baby calves a Merry Christmas as the snowflakes gently fall. Our animals are like family, and after the rush-rush of the holiday, it's really relaxing to hear the sounds of happy cows eating, the swish of the milking machine, and things returning to normal.