When Haley-Ann, 10, and Riley Lynch, 7, get out from school they don’t go home to watch TV. Most days they go directly to their grandparent’s beef cattle farm in Southwick, MA where they help with various chores. When the weekend comes, they get up at the crack of dawn to do more.
This may seem like a lot of responsibility for two little girls but according to Haley-Ann it is something they enjoy.
“My favorite thing about helping out is not just the responsibility with feeding and washing but being around the animals,” Haley-Ann said. “Most of the time I’m out in the pasture capturing my youngest heifer Snickers with a halter.”
The owners of the farm, Mike and Anna Demko, believe kids can benefit from working around farm animals because it reduces opportunities for them to get in trouble and helps them learn.
“Some…kids have nothing to do which is why they are getting in a lot of trouble,” Mike said. “They don’t have a clue where their food comes from. If you ask them they’ll tell you, ‘I go to the store’…Our girls go out and feed the animals and work with them…That’s all part of learning and understanding.”
The Demko’s started raising cattle on their 30-acre farm, Pinebrook Acres, back in 1998 as an educational extension for their two children who were actively involved in 4-H and FFA.
“The farm isn’t our primary income but what comes out of the farm is a lot of good,” Mike said. “This farm is mainly for our kids and our grandkids to learn responsibility and to have the opportunity to further themselves in agriculture when they are older and graduate from school.”
Along with a few other farm animals, the Demko’s primarily raise Simmental and Gelbvieh cattle on their farm.
“We started out with two heifers, with each year adding a few more and here we are raising over 20 with as high as 30 on the farm,” Anna said. “We’ve sold some of our show calves to 4-H’ers and farms. We’ve also sold a few bulls to farms as breeding stock. Our cattle are primarily sold for their beef.”
The Demko’s pride themselves in teaching their granddaughters everything they know.
One of the first and most basic things the Demko’s have taught their granddaughters was the importance of closely observing and regularly handling their cattle.
“As a family we are around the animals every day,” Anna said. “They all have a personality and we know right away that something is wrong by how they react with us and other animals. Having daily contact with your animals allows you to see if there is a change in eating habits or potential injuries. Our animals are extremely healthy and the end result is that we are not using antibiotics or any other medications.”
One of the main chores for the girls is mixing grains for the younger cattle. The Demko’s goal is not only for the girls to do the chore but to understand why it’s needed.
“What we have explained to our granddaughters is that you need to be providing them with protein, fiber and minerals. We look to feed out at least 14 to 16 percent protein,” Anna said. “We also include fiber [such as] beet pulp [and] oats. In addition…we do add a mineral supplement to the daily feeding.”
When the Demko’s are not raising and caring for their own cattle they accompany their granddaughters as they travel around the country participating in junior cattle shows.
“I’ve had people say you’re crazy dragging your grandkids all over the country,” Mike said. “I tell them…I get to spend two weeks during the summer time with my grandkids and they get to travel around the country. There is a lot to see and there is a lot for them to learn out there.”
One piece of advice the Demko’s have given their granddaughters when it comes to showing is to practice handling their cattle in a noisy farm environment.
“We tap them with a show stick and walk them so they don’t get spooked when they are in the show ring,” Mike said. “We play the radio all the time in the barn to get them used to noise and activity. We handle them, move them around, slam gates, run lawn mowers, tractors and trucks.”
Once at the show the Demko’s encourage the girls to make friends and network. A lot of the knowledge the Demko’s have gained over the years has come from reaching out to others.
“We aren’t afraid to reach out to other farmers to get some of their best practices,” Anna said. “We reached out to gain knowledge about what and how much to feed, the equipment needed and the preparation for going to cattle shows.”
In addition to the cattle shows the girls are set to become fourth generation 4-H’ers. Haley-Ann is already indirectly involved with a 4-H program geared for youths ages 12-18. Her mother, Elena Lynch, says Haley-Ann is watching what the older kids are doing and helping out where she can.
“This 4-H program has regular showmanship, a herdsman quiz, public speaking, sales talk and livestock judging,” Lynch said. “She studies this information with the older kids. Her idea is that if she studies it now she will have that much more knowledge when she is 12.”
For now Lynch and the Demko’s are happy to know all the effort and hard work Haley-Ann is putting into her cattle is paying off.
“When I go for parent teacher conferences at school the teachers are amazed,” Lynch said. “Haley-Ann uses a lot of her experiences with her cattle in school. When it comes to writing projects…Haley-Ann has been writing about her cattle.”
Lynch says Haley-Ann wants to become a veterinarian and is already talking about going to Northampton, MA to attend Smith Vocational and Agricultural High.