Start ‘em While They’re Young

There is always something to pet at the Baumgarten Ranch.
There is always something to pet at the Baumgarten Ranch.

The only thing cuter than seeing baby animals is seeing children react to baby animals.

We were all kids once. I had the luck of growing up on a farm. If we couldn’t find a particular species on my family ranch, we would likely find it on my neighbors’. They had chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep, donkeys and even an llama. Every time I traveled the mile to their farmstead, I had to see, and pet, all of the animals. And I always walked away holding a kitten (sometimes by the neck). Remember, I was 5 years old.

I got older, but small animals still remained cute. I still let out an “aw” whenever I see a little lamb, bunny, calf or kitten — the kittens really get me with their squeaking.

It’s the same when my cousins come out to the farm. They get so excited when they find out they get to come out to the Baumgarten Cattle Co. They take turns riding horses as I lead Lady the Palomino around the yard. They want to bottle feed a calf that was just born, or at least watch the cows buck and grunt as their tails fly in the air. And, of course, they always want to pet and hold a kitty (usually by the neck).

My brother Jake helps his relative take care of a bull at the National Western Livestock Show in Denver.
My brother Jake helps his relative take care of a bull at the National Western Livestock Show in Denver.

The memories always flood back when I see other children flocking toward animals. It usually happens at county fairs, a scene I am familiar with because my parents coaxed my brother and I into showing cattle. I’m too old for that now, but my brother still goes to some shows, where he helps younger kids take care of their animals. When he goes to national shows, like in Denver, some children will come through the stalls asking to brush the bulls. They giggle when they feel how soft their hair is — cattle have hair, not fur. And then they go back to their moms and dads to ask when they can have a cow of their own.

But much like my cousins, many children who visit fairs know almost nothing about the critters they encounter. The Dickinson State University Ag Club hosts an annual Kids Day on the Farm, where children get to learn about the many animals that live on a farm, as well as pet them to their hearts’ content.

Some children who have never seen a pig in real life. While that may be surprising to someone in North Dakota, it’s a reality for many children in urban areas.

But I bet some parents from outside of western North Dakota would find it strange that children out here weren’t playing football at a younger age. And if you tell anyone in Grand Forks you didn’t have the opportunity to play hockey, they may feel sad you didn’t get to have a childhood, by their standards at least.

The heifer was a little too big, but she was gentle with me.
The heifer was a little too big, but she was gentle with me.

It doesn’t matter which activity children start out with. The important thing is to start them while they’re young. Children learn early on what they are interested in. They’ll usually stick with a certain activity or theme through high school, and that can sometimes influence their future.

I started showing cattle when I was 8. That led to 4-H and FFA, where I participated in livestock judging, range judging, crop judging and photography. I showed cattle into my college years, and my love for photography grew.

Because I was so active in FFA and 4-H, I took on leadership positions. That led to more opportunities, like running a news staff. And if you couldn’t tell from this column, I still love to write about agriculture.

Getting children involved with something can build valuable skills and lifelong interests. It may not seem apparent now, but that kid who is happy to see a donkey may become a veterinarian. The kid that wants to be in chess club may use logic to become a lawyer. The captain of the baseball team could very well be a U.S. senator.

The possibilities are endless if children learn while they are young. So get them interested in anything, even if it is accidentally pulling the hair out of a horse.

They’ll eventually learn to be gentle.

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