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Lessons Learned From Growing Up on a Farm

Paul grew up on a farm where moral virtues such as hard work and honesty were cherished. Each of his classes has a moral lesson.

The Barn, Silo, and Milkhouse of the Farm Where I Grew Up

Farm land, old machinery, creek, and woods in the background

Farm land, old machinery, creek, and woods in the background

Valuable Lessons Learned From Living on a Farm

When I was nine years old, my parents moved from a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to a farm in the southeastern part of the state. Having spent my whole life growing up in the city, it was the beginning of new experiences for my oldest sister, just-born sister, and me. As I look back on my youth and the time spent on the farm, I realize now that I learned valuable life lessons. These valuable moral lessons include the importance of hard work, the value of money, self-sufficiency, teamwork, generosity, austerity, and enduring inconvenience.

Moving to a Farm

I guess it wasn't much of a surprise when my father rented a farm in 1954 and moved to the countryside, Dad had worked on many dairy farms before he got married, and I remember him taking me to visit some of his farming friends when we still lived in the city. He had also taken an agricultural short course at the University of Wisconsin and one semester of pre-veterinarian medicine courses there.

On a cold windy Saturday during the first week of March, dad had hitched a flatbed farm wagon to the back of his old Chevy. Uncle Dick then came over and helped move our furniture and household appliances from a rented apartment in West Allis onto the wagon, We then drove on a two-lane road out into the countryside in Waukesha County. The 70-acre farm which dad had rented was situated on a small hill about one-half mile off of the main road. The landlord lived in a small cottage at the foot of the hill.

The farm was rather old and the first thing I noticed was the old two-story farmhouse. I recall it having a fairly big kitchen, living room with an oil-burning stove, family room, and two small bedrooms on the first floor. On the second floor, there were three more bedrooms. The house had no basement and there was no indoor plumbing.

The red barn and adjoining silo were very small. The ground floor of the barn could accommodate 10-15 cows, and maybe 1,000 bales of hay could be stored on the second floor in a haymow which also had a grain storage room. The farm also had a small chicken coop and machine shed.

First Farm Dad Rented in 1954


Buying a Farm

After three years of living on the rented "McNally Farm", my parents found a farm to buy about 15 miles away in neighboring Walworth County. Dad had been working a full-time job in West Allis while also dairy farming and building up a small herd of 10-15 cattle. When he and Ma saw the old "Blackburn Farm" on Honey Creek Road was for sale in 1957 for $16,000, he was able to get a mortgage loan to purchase the farm.

Once again on a cold March day, Uncle Dick came out and helped dad move the cattle and household goods to the farm located one-half mile north of the village of Honey Creek. This farm was a lot better than the rented one. It had 117 acres of land and a creek (Honey Creek) which flowed through the land from north to south, The barn was a lot bigger and it could hold 25-30 cows. Our house was also better because it now had a basement and indoor plumbing.

Part of the land and buildings of the farm which mom and dad purchased in 1957.  Picture taken around 1970.

Part of the land and buildings of the farm which mom and dad purchased in 1957. Picture taken around 1970.

The Kuehn Family Farm North of Honey Creek, Wisconsin

Photo taken probably between 2000 and 2010.

Photo taken probably between 2000 and 2010.

Valuable Lessons Learned From Living on a Farm

1. The Importance of Hard Work

One of the most important things I learned while growing up on the farm is the importance of hard work. Before moving to the country, I had a very easy life in the city. All I had to do was go to school and do my homework. When I wasn't going to school, my day was filled with play and friends, especially when I was on summer vacation.

My life of play changed after starting to live on the farm. There was now hard work wherever you looked. My father was a dairy farmer and milked an average of 20 cows before I went away to college. I soon found out that barn chores occupied a great part of my day. Cows had to be milked around 5:30 A.M. and then at 5:30 P.M. every day.

In addition to helping milk the cows, I had to feed them twice a day. This entailed climbing up into the silo and forking down through a chute and into a big cart silage which is fermented chopped-up green corn plants. It also included going into the haymow on the second level and shoveling down into a cart ground up corn and oats with added molasses and minerals. After the cattle finished eating the silage and ground-up grain, they had bales of hay to feed on which I had to get from the haymow and then throw down a chute.

The dirtiest work, undoubtedly, was cleaning the barn. This meant removing manure from the two gutters which were in the back of the stanchions on both sides of the barn where the cows were harnessed. Until dad and granddad installed a barn cleaner, I had to shovel the manure each day out of the gutters and into a wheelbarrow. I then had to empty the wheelbarrow into a manure spreader which was parked outside of a barn door. Besides this, some pens had to be regularly cleaned.

When I wasn't doing barn chores, I was helping my dad with fieldwork. Most of the fieldwork was in the spring and summer. In the spring, the planting of crops was the first order of business. We planted mainly corn, oats, and alfalfa which were all used for feed for the cattle. Before planting, the land had to be plowed, disked, and then dragged so that it was flat and smooth for planting. Occasionally we had to pick a lot of stones from the fields before planting. I then helped my dad first plant the oats in April. I remember standing on the back of a very old grain seeder to make sure that the oat seeds, fertilizer, and alfalfa seeds were all freely flowing from the seeder into the ground while my father pulled it with a tractor. In May we planted corn with a two-row corn planter that had compartments for both corn and fertilizer.

During the summer we were busy with the cultivation of corn, making hay, and harvesting oats. Making hay was the most back-breaking work, After cutting a field of alfalfa and letting it dry for two or three days, we would rake up the dried alfalfa now called hay, and then bale it with a machine called a baler pulled by a tractor. A wagon was hitched behind the baler, and it was usually I who had to stand on the wagon and stack the bales as they came out of the baler. Following this, we had to unload the hay into a haymow by transferring them from the wagon to an elevator which shot them up to a person who stacked them. Each bale usually weighed 50-60 pounds.

When we weren't doing barn and fieldwork, there were many maintenance jobs on the farm. On many rainy days when we couldn't get out into the fields, I was helping dad fix fences or repair tractors and other farm machinery.

2. Value of Money

I quickly learned the value of money after moving to the farm. My parents didn't have much money when I was a kid, so I was given no allowance. When I did ask for money, dad said that money doesn't grow on trees and that I would have to work for spending money. When I was 10 or 11, I remember helping the neighbor farmer chase his cows across the road twice a day and getting a quarter a day to do it. When my sisters and I needed money for school clothes, I sold sweet corn at a stand along the road and also at picnics. One year we also planted an acre of pickles which we sold to a pickle factory. It was hot,back-breaking work picking the cucumbers during August, but we needed all the money we earned for new school clothes.

3. Self-sufficiency

Through all the work I did helping my father, I quickly learned that a farmer has to be self-sufficient to have any chance of surviving. It would have been just too expensive for dad if he had bought all of his hay and other feed for the cattle. That's why we planted, cultivated, and harvested our crops. I also never really remember going much to the supermarket when I was a kid. We grew our vegetables, and ma used to can things like pickles, beans, and peaches which we could eat year-round. My parents rarely bought meat, because we raised beef cattle and pigs which we would butcher. We also had our chickens and eggs as well as drinking milk from the cows, Since dad was a handy mechanic, he would repair all tractors and farm machinery as well as his cars. On many occasions, he would say that if you want something done right, you do it yourself.

4. Teamwork

My father would have never been successful in farming if there hadn't been teamwork within our family. Everyone would work together in the barn and sometimes in the field, too. Ma and dad did most of the milking, and I would help with the feeding and cleaning of the barn. When my sisters and brother got older, they also helped with barn and field chores after I went off to college.

5. Generosity

I remember my folks being very generous to all relatives and friends who visited. During the summer, it seemed that ma and dad would give a lot of vegetables to my two uncles when they came to visit. They would also stay for supper before going back to the city. Friends were often supper guests, too. In times of need, dad would lend money to a neighbor or help him repair farm machinery.

6. Austerity

Growing up we didn't have much money, so we couldn't waste it. Dad and ma had to always watch every penny to make the monthly mortgage payment. For this reason, vacations, entertainment, and new clothes were out of the question. Dad always bought second-hand cars, and both he and ma bought used clothes. We kids also always got our new school clothes from discount department stores.

7. Endure Inconvenience

No indoor plumbing was the first inconvenience I endured during the first three years on the farm. We had an outhouse to use when the weather wasn't cold. During the winter, we used chamber pots in the house and always bathed in small portable tubs. The hot water for our baths came from pots of water that were heated up on a stove.

The moral lessons learned from growing up on a farm have stayed with me over all the years. I especially appreciate the lessons I learned about the importance of hard work and the value of money. There are too many spoiled young people today who need to learn the moral lessons which I have learned for life. If they did, I think the world would be a much better place.

Dad and the Author

Picture was taken in 1993.  Dad at the age of 77

Picture was taken in 1993. Dad at the age of 77

Making Hay

Moral Lessons Learned Growing Up

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn

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