Margaret Tafel describes her life as the mother of three small children on Tafel Dairy farm where she lives and works with her husband Adam and their kids. To see more behind the scenes photos of Margaret’s life, follow us on Instagram where she posts regularly.
Mother’s Day is here! Now is the time to celebrate all the moms out there, whether they are in the middle of the hilarious chaos that is young children, or keeping up with the lives of their grown children. I was asked to share a little about how it is to be a mom – or more specifically a Maple Hill farm mom.
“I had a wonderful vision of farm life.”
My husband, Adam, and I have three boys, ages 7, 4 and 2. We milk 120 cows year-round in a tiny town way up in the middle of New York State. We’ve been farming for 11 years and we are seven years into this sweet, crazy, exhausting life of parenthood.
Here’s what a typical day looks like: Kids come along into the barn and play in the manger while we feed or push up cows. They play and “help” while we milk and finish chores. Adam and I will take them in the tractor with us, parked in the buddy seat. After drinking warm milk from the line, they sometimes fall asleep in the barn, snuggled into a pile of sweatshirts, covered with an extra coat. Often they sit on the steps and wonder when the heck we will be done. Sometimes, they insist on helping- which of course slows chores down, but that is just part of having them with us.
I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, far from the big green pastures of New York State. I had a wonderful vision of farm life. A beautiful utopian image. Lawn mowed! Food cooked! Kitchen clean! Pie on the counter! Animals behind fences! Children with matching socks! The reality of farming was very eye-opening for me. On the farm, there are no days off. Dishes somehow never wash themselves, and clothes are dirty ALL THE TIME – with manure. Socks are….somewhere? Animals stay where we put them… most of the time. Unless it is 2am and there was a storm. And as a rule, calving problems requiring a vet only occur during a holiday and in the middle of the night.
“Motherhood and farming are intimately intertwined.”
Farming is not a job. It is a lifestyle. When I became a mother, I was stunned that they let me out of the hospital with a tiny baby. Didn’t they know I didn’t know what the heck I was doing? But at the same time, motherhood and farming are intimately intertwined. The powerful life-force of care-taking – both of children and animals – is so different and yet so similar to me. Becoming a mother on a farm was very natural, almost familiar. The reality of parenting is that it is hard – but so is farming.
Animal care is a huge responsibility, and our children are growing up with the understanding that our primary role is to take care of animals. Part of that responsibility is making sure that animals have the best life possible while they are in our care. It doesn’t matter if they are dogs, chickens, pigs, or cows. Best life possible until the end. The moment when a live animal changes to food is an important moment: it is not brutal, unknown, or scary. It is a part of raising your food in an ethical manner. We are always very open about the food process with our children.
“The moment when a live animal changes to food is an important moment: it is not brutal, unknown, or scary.”
The other end of the circle of life is no mystery either! Birth is an integral part of farming. The kids have all seen a calf born, in all its messy and bloody glory. They are learning how the female body works and where the baby grows. They know how to tell when a cow will give birth, and how we can step in if the mama needs help.
I love going out to the pasture with them, looking at the grass and soil, showing them how the worms and the little bugs in the soil help everything to break down and grow better. I hope they understand that Earth is a closed system, and that we are doing the best job of helping her create a clean system, one we are an integral part of. Being a 100% grass-fed, organic dairy just makes sense from our farming point of view, letting our cows express what they naturally are, not what we think they should be.
The reality of being a farming mother is wrapping your small baby in a wrap and throwing a coat over the both of you while you go get a load of bales on the tractor. Breastfeeding on the parlor steps in the middle of milking cows, because the baby woke up and needs to be fed. Hauling milk up to the calves, baby wrapped on your chest, while your two-year-old helps to hold onto the handle of the full five-gallon bucket. I think the Nike slogan must have been spoken by a farm mom first!
“I feel guilty about not making all our food from scratch.”
Like most moms, I often struggle with guilt- about not spending enough time with my children, even though we are with them all the time. I feel guilty about not making all our food from scratch- the woman at the pizza place down the road knows me by name.
We always do what needs to be done, even if it means not always slowing down to do what the kids want. Go fishing, play farm on the rug with their toys, play hide-n-seek before bedtime. But at the same time, they are growing up fully immersed in this life with us. We do a job and we get it done, with them, even if it doesn’t go as planned.
We have to be aware and thankful of the little moments. Helping one boy feed his first calf, holding another as he is witness to a birthing, and answering questions. Handing my other son his first kitten, getting a new batch of baby chicks and watching the wonder on my kids faces. Taking a few hours and going swimming in the cool water of the creek after a long, hot dusty day. Sneaking off for the day to go fishing. Bringing food out to the field and eating lunch on the tailgate as a family. It’s the simple parts of life that mean the most.
This Mother’s Day I send a wish to my children: I wish for you to grow up to be what you want to be, and that you do it well. I wish for you to grow and be decent, honest, useful members of society. Be true to yourself. Respect other people and treat them with kindness. Be someone’s hero. Stay in touch with your mama and come home for holidays when possible. Because you might be growing up, but you will always be my little boys who made me a mama.