A farmer's daughter: the value of hard work

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Associate editor
As a toddler, our daughter Stephanie, helped feed calves on my parents' dairy farm in Washington County.

Having grown up on a farm and raised children that didn’t, I have always believed every child should work on a farm at some point in his or her life. The reason is simple – farming teaches the value of hard work. 

As a teen growing and working on our family dairy farm in Washington County, good hired help was hard to find. We could usually tell which ones wouldn’t come back for a second day of baling hay. That was way before large bales came onto the ag scene and we baled and unloaded continuously on the hottest days, with the mow getting hotter, tighter and stuffier with each load. The shorter the distance between farm and field, the shorter the rest period between each load. 

Recently I chatted with a Waukesha County farmer about hired help. Once high school football practices started in August, he was hard pressed to find enough help for baling. His high school workers had to lift weights in the morning and leave early for practice in the afternoon. He wondered, why lift weights? Tossing bales around is the best functional weight training (way before functional exercise was popular), yet football would always come first. 

Attending an Agricultural Community Engagement (ACE) Twilight Meeting at Cozy Nook farm in Waukesha County, Tom Oberhaus shrugged at the number of hours they put in each day to make their small family farm profitable. They’ve created their own niche when it comes to hired help by tapping into the local 4-H group with a vested interest in agriculture and willingness to put in the time and effort needed to care for animals to show at the fair. However, that also comes with extra work for the farmer. 

Farmers barely flinch at the mention of hard work. It’s not like there is a choice. 

As the oldest of four girls on a farm with 70-plus head of Holsteins, we did what had to be done, as efficiently as possible. Albeit, my mother would beg to differ, pointing to our teen years when chores didn’t get done as timely as our parents liked. 

As a toddler, our daughter Stephanie, helped grandma feed calves on my parents' dairy farm in Washington County.

Still, when a barn fire destroyed the top portion of the milking barn in the 80s, we discovered how ingrained hard work was in each of us. All four of us stepped in the morning after the fire and started digging through debris, not waiting for direction, but seeing what had to be done and tackling the tasks hard. Someone commented on what hard workers we were to our parents. 

I think each of us inwardly shrugged, much like Tom Oberhaus. We knew it had to be done, there was no choice. We learned from little on to not wait for work to be doled out, but to seize the task and bust through it quickly, squeezing as much as possible out of every minute of daylight. 

Those qualities never leave a person. 

I got one of my first jobs outside of the farm because the human resources manager knew I would work hard having grown up on a farm.

Throughout my years of journalism, editors and community members described me as one of the hardest working people they knew. I was offered the job as associate editor for the Wisconsin State Farmer, partly because of my farm background, but more so because I would work hard to do the many tasks required for the job. 

My daughter helped feed calves on my parents’ farm as a youngster. My oldest son spent time working with grandpa on the farm. Only my youngest missed out on the farming opportunity, but they all inherited the ethic of hard work because my husband and I model the trait. 

In today’s society of electronic distractions, instant gratification and mechanization, the value of hard work can easily get lost on children. I look at my grandsons, where the oldest, at 7, can easily sit buried behind a device for hours if not forced outside or toward something more wholesome. I wonder where he will be in another seven years. I would love to see both of them experience the hard work of farming where there are no choices, the work has to be done. 

Thankfully there are organizations like 4-H and Future Farmers of America, but in more urban settings, even those activities might be limited. Reading stories about troubled youth, I’ve always been of the mind that throwing them on a farm would solve many problems. It’s harder to get in trouble on a farm when there is no spare time to waste on unnecessary activities. 

I’ll always be proud that I’m a farmer’s daughter. I wouldn’t be where I am today without that background of hard work.