By Stephanie Choate
A Williston eighth grader’s descriptive poem, bringing readers through a season of raising lambs, is one of six winners in the Young Writer’s Farm Project Writing Challenge.
Eva Rocheleau’s “Sheep Poem” rose to the top of 77 entries to the special submissions call.
“It was a lively really great little piece,” said Susan Reid of the Young Writers Project.
“You could really feel you were there… it was well done.”
Rocheleau has been involved in 4-H for four years, choosing a lamb each spring to name, raise and show at fairs through the 4-H program. She works with her lamb “as often as possible,” she said, at least once a week.
She said her favorite part of the process was “being able to go and work with them and creating a bond with the sheep,” she said.
When she saw the writing prompt asking students to write about the joys and challenges of farming, growing or producing food in Vermont, she decided to try her hand.
“I thought ‘well, I’ve had that experience in a way,’ so maybe I’d try it,” she said—though she noticed she was “really, really surprised” when she found out her poem was selected.
Reid said many of the submissions were quality pieces.
“It was really hard to whittle them down,” Reid said. “There were so many really heartfelt pieces.”
The project was intended to raise awareness about the importance of farming in Vermont and about making fresh, local food available to all Vermonters.
“We just wanted to emphasize the importance of farming in Vermont and it was quite incredible, the responses that we got,” Reid said. “Farming in Vermont is still really important to them, whether they are working on a farm themselves or enjoying fresh food. “They get it. They understand that this is critical to Vermont.”
“I think (farms) are very important,” Rocheleau said. “Farms teach people responsibility and taking care of things and a down-to-earth agricultural sense. Everything comes from a certain place. It’s not all just handed to you at the grocery store, you actually have to work for your food, and that’s a really good feeling.”
The Vermont Community Foundation, sponsor of the challenge, will award each writer $50 and a $50 donation in the writer’s name to the local farm-related or food-related nonprofit of his or her choice.
Rocheleau plans to donate to the Williston Community Food Shelf.
By Eva Rocheleau
Grade 8, Williston Central School
The lambs born in February and March leap together
In May when the fields are green
The visitors come
And they ask us questions like “when” and “why” and “where”
June, July rotate the pastures
Shifting the fence, one, two, three, lift!
Then comes August
When we load up the trailers
And off to the fair
Full of top-notch churros and freshly ironed pants
The days of blocking and fitting
Showing and ribbons
Are long, tense, and sweaty
And the sheep are loud and “fitted” their best
Once Addison County and Champlain Expo are simply joyful memories
We pack up our lambs, all tuckered out, and head back to the farm
Where the shepherds are eagerly waiting
September, lambs are nearly forgotten
The Chicken Coop
By David Amouretti
Grade 5, Thomas Fleming School
I open the coop’s squeaky door.
I pass the rooster sleeping in a feathery mass.
He opens one eye, then closes it,
Deciding that I’m not a threat.
At the laying area, I reach in
The tiny room with the mother hens,
White, brown, spotted,
Sleeping on the side.
Waiting for a peck,
But nothing happens.
I count 1…2…3…4…
My trembling hands gently pick them up.
They feel cold, chilling my fingers
In the already freezing winter.
Careful not to drop them,
I walk inside,
Ready for omelets.
By Callista Bushee
Grade 8, Home School, East Wallingford
On the second Friday in January, a calf was born at Seward Farm in East Wallingford, just 10 minutes from my home. She wasn’t out of the ordinary; in fact, she was anything but different.
The heifer, the first female calf in several months of bulls, had a thick-headed temper to her, like her mother, and boasted her rudeness from day one. But that Monday, one of the two days I spend volunteering at Seward’s each week, she caught my eye.
We usually only name registered or special calves, and she was neither. A bit smaller than most, her size was the only unusual trait about her, with regular markings and, of course, her tough disposition. However, the calf’s strong will was much like my own, and she grew on me.
With permission from Art and Dave Seward, the two wonderful guys who own and operate the farm, I named her Shatter for her white markings, which in some places looked like shattered glass.
With time, Shatter became more even-tempered, and her affection for me grew. After I’d trained her to give me her hooves upon request and a few other useful tricks, I began working with her on a halter, walking her any chance I got. Bit by bit, Shatter worked her way into my heart, funny little nose first.
Working at Seward’s is by far the highlight of my week, not only because of Shatter but because no matter how grim things look, Art and Dave always find a way to laugh. One way or another, they cheer you up, and they have showed me that even in the toughest situations, you can always find a way to smile.
Dusty Creek Farm
By Kelsey Eddy
Grade 9, Mill River High School
I turned the doorknob and walked into the milk house. It smelled like milk and cows. The milk container was cold, as expected, and the family had not started without me. I walked through the milk house and went into the barn. I walked down the aisle, looking for my grandpa. As soon as I spotted him I walked over to him.
“Hey!” I said, looking at the young cows.
“Hey Sprout, you here to help out or talk to the old lady?” he asked.
We both laughed. My grandpa had a great sense of humor, and always called me Sprout.
“Go clean off the calves,” he said, all business-like.
I nodded. “OK then.”
It wasn’t the best job you could get, and not the cleanest. I grabbed the scraper and started cleaning out the stalls. The “scraper” as we called it, is a lot like one of those windshield wipers at gas stations, but with a longer handle. Some people don’t understand how we clean the stalls, but I’ll tell you. There is a gutter that goes around the aisle in the barn, the cows face the walls so the gutter is behind them, and when I clean them I scrape the manure into the gutter, and when it gets too full my grandpa turns it on and it has blocks in it that will push all the manure into a special containment area that will send it outside to a pit, and a truck will come and take it.
As I finished cleaning the calves’ stalls my grandpa was already in the milk house. I walked into the milk house and grabbed a pair of blue rubber doctor gloves.
“Here, take a milker and the bucket.”
I took the milker off the rack and picked up the bucket with towels and the before and after dippers. The milker is the thing we hook up to the cows’ udders to get the milk. I put the bucket on the sawdust wagon, then put the milker on the left side with the first cow. I waited for my grandpa to bring the other two milkers out so we could get started. While I waited I grabbed the before dipper and a clean rag, then crouched down next to the first cow. I then dipped her, and made sure the iodine had covered each teet. We had to clean their udders before we milked them because it could clog our filters, contaminate the milk, or the mud and manure would build up and they could get illnesses.
After I made sure the udders were clean and disinfected, I went back to the milk house. My grandpa had brought the other two milk machines and waited for me to turn the pump on. I entered the milk house, turning to the right where a white box hung. Under it were three switches. I flipped the switch that turned on the pump, and the farm roared to life. The pump turned on with the sound of a loud pulsing noise that always reminded me of a dinosaur snoring. There was another noise, more like the sound of a fan, but higher pitched.
As I walked back to the barn, the cows mooed to me in greeting, the calves knowing they were going to be fed. I smiled and walked down to the mother cows, picking up the milk machine and going over to the cow I had cleaned. I hung it on an overhead pipe and patted the cow on the head.
I always loved cows, even though they were huge compared to me, and much stronger, but most of them were nice. The cow named Angel (we always pick good names) licked my hand with her long tongue.
“Awww really? You just had to lick my hand?” I laughed as she watched me. Cows weren’t like dogs, but they had their own ways into my heart.
I turned and grabbed the blue thing that I had no name for. It was the power cord that made the milk machine suck the milk. I think the air went into the blue power cord and travelled (in a yellow tube) to the palm-sized, half clear milker that hung under the four rubber tube-like things that went on each of the teets. After I plugged in the blue power cord, a noise that I always thought of as a beating heart rang out.
I grabbed the white thing that, yet again, I have no name for. It was palm-sized, and was sometimes tricky to put on. To attach it to the pipe, you have to slide it onto a vertical rectangle, and if you have the right angle it should lock into the two edges of the rectangle and as you keep pushing, it would push a green metal plate out of the way and the white tool in your hand will stop moving. You know you haven’t put it on right if you can hear air sucking, like the end of a vacuum cleaner.
It’s actually hard to explain, mostly because I learned from watching, like most farmers do, so I don’t know the names of things, and everything I do is trained into me, but I will try my best.
Next I lifted up the actual milker that did all the milking. As I explained before, the plastic part you hold is half transparent and has a white ring on the side that you put your thumb in and push it in to start the suction. I crouched and pushed in the ring. I heard the air sucking, and I was careful not to let it suck up sawdust as I attached it to the teets. I stood up once I was satisfied that it would stay and the cow would not kick it off.
Milking a cow is complicated because there are many dangers. If the cow is used to another person, she will sometimes refuse to allow others to clean her. “Blonde” was the one who did that. She only wanted my grandpa to milk her, and we didn’t argue. Some of our cows we have to sing to, so they will calm down; some you just have to yell at and tell them you’re the boss.
My grandpa was the toughest man around the farm. Unlike me, who can be scared of cows at times, my grandpa was tough and fearless, even though he had his limits. He was the best grandpa I could ask for. My grandma was right with him; she loved the farm, and her grandkids, and always pushed herself, no matter what.
A beeping noise disturbed my thoughts. After the cow’s milk was taken, the milker was able to detect when there was no more milk and it would start beeping like an alarm clock, and a red light would flash in the white connector. I instantly walked over and crouched, holding the milker in my left hand and pulling the ring out with my right. The suction stopped and I pulled it off, turning and hanging it up on the hook. Grandpa was already using the after dipper on my cow as I lifted the metal rack that held the milker and plugs and carried it around the metal handrail that separated the cows. Then we redid the processes from before. The before and after dippers are to keep things sterile, and the reason we use them after we are done milking is to make sure they don’t get infected. We had to go through this process at least 30 times, and I loved it each time.
Farming was my life, all the hard times that we had to work through, from hay season where my dad and I raced to beat thunderstorms in the hay wagon, to fixing broken water tubes that water all the cows, to going in knee-deep water during Hurricane Irene to save the cows from drowning in the field, to the death of calves, that always silenced the barnyard. There were also good times that I will never forget, like watching my little sisters feed the calves, playing and brushing the calves, seeing a baby calf being born, grandpa teaching me how to drive the tractor, staying up all night talking about all the fun we have, and all the little things that I hold so dear.
But the thing that bothers me (and I bet all farmers feel the same) is that people don’t understand how much work goes into keeping a farm running, and how people look at me in disgust if I forgot to shower and went somewhere smelling like the farm, as if I’m a slob. They forget just how many people used to farm, and my mom says she remembers how most of the kids would work on a farm after school; that it was so common, nobody questioned it. Now only the big companies can survive, with all the machines and hundreds of cows, and not even a family business. But I do find myself lucky, because farming makes me feel so alive, like I’m connected to the past where everything had to be done by hand, and so many people don’t get to do what I do…
But now, as I look around at our cows, hear the sound of the farm, remember all the good and bad, I can’t help but cry, because all this, that I grew up to know and love, is being sold this summer.
Living by a Farm
By Saskia Kiely
Grade 7, Vergennes Union High School
The drive down the luminous dirt road when I was moving away from my childhood home was torturous. I knew it was going to be a big change, moving to West Addison, and not necessarily a good one. Gone was my lush yard and surrounding mountains that were the backdrop of my childhood. I arrived to see a bland town, no trees, and fields flatter than a pancake. The only thing I could smell for the first week was manure. My parents told me it would be a great experience and change, but I wasn’t convinced.
My new home is surrounded by farmland all around; there is no escape. My first encounter with the farm was with the cows. One day I had some extra cake that I normally would have discarded, but I decided to give it to the cows. I went outside, walked over and cautiously dropped the cake over the electric fence. The excited cows came forward and licked it a couple times.
The next day I went back out and came a little closer, allowing them to suck on my fingers. Day after day I would walk to the barn and interact with the animals, and Rob and Suzie, the farmers. I could see when the pigs got out from my living room window, and would rush over to chase them back in. The place had started to grow on me, and I wanted to be of help in any way I could.
Prior to moving, my stereotype of dairy farmers was strong. I thought that farmers were gruff middle-aged men who didn’t care about anything — they just had the jobs for the tractors. But I realized how incorrect this stereotype was when I met my neighbor farmers who are kind, generous, and always helpful — and their kids are also creative and engaging.
Amazed by how much effort and time they give to producing milk, I started thinking differently about the farming lifestyle and the passion and dedication it requires. These people sacrifice so much time to wake up in the morning at 5 o’clock and take care of the calves or milk the cows. They don’t just do it because it’s their job, they do it because it’s what they love to do.
Something I would like to make less of an issue is “judging a book by its cover.” Each time I judge a person or situation without all of the facts, I come to realize how stupid it is. You have to get to know something or someone before you discover how breathtaking it/they can be.
The farm I live next to shows an immense amount of love and care towards their animals. They name almost all of their pigs and many of their cows as well. So much of Vermont’s specialty produce is dairy-related and farms play a big part in that. Vermont is lucky to have so many farms to supply milk because it’s always available and fresh.
Within a week of moving to West Addison, I knew it was going to be so incredibly fun. I feel so lucky to live next to this amazing farm with outstanding farmers. I think what they do is very important for our state and I am so lucky to be able to have the privilege to connect with the animals whenever I want.
I love how when I drive down my street I can see the beautiful sun setting over the Adirondacks in the distance, and I am greeted by the pleasing smell of the farm I have become very fond of.
Summer on the Farm
By Carley Malloy
Grade 7, Thetford Academy
I’ve decided that a family farm is a lot like a barbed wire fence; running smooth for a little while, and then running into a twist or barb that slows things down. My last year and a half has been spent working on my grandparents’ farm. Each day has been a new adventure, and I often catch myself looking back and saying, “remember the day…”
I like summer on the farm the most; the weather has warmed so the barn can be left open and I can hear the jingling of chains as the cows turn their heads to look when I come in. Summer on the farm means haying, fencing, cleaning up the winter’s mess, and letting the cows outside to stretch their long legs. Kittens and calves are born and you have the fun of tracking them down every morning to see where their mothers have decided to move them.
We spent much of our time fixing fence, but I was on crutches for a few weeks, which meant there wasn’t much I could do to help. One hot summer day, my grandfather, mom, and two of my cousins were all working down the hill from the barn, next to the road. My grandfather, unlike most farmers, fixes fence with an excavator. It works great; one person holds the fence post up and he pushes it in with the excavator bucket, and two or three others go behind and start stringing wire.
I usually occupied myself with my own chores, like washing down the milk house or reading my book in the hay in front of the heifers. Today, though, I had a new calf to train. She was born on Cinco de Mayo, and we named her Lola, which suited her right away. I walked to the end of the barn where she was hitched with her mother. She jumped up when she saw that I was coming to see her and came over to start sucking on my fingers.
I smiled and took the halter off the nail and we fought each other as I tried to tighten it over her ears and around her muzzle for the first time. She was so young that she didn’t pull like some calves do. She would run to the end of her rope and come to a quick stop until I had caught up to her. We headed down the hill, Lola on the halter and me on my crutches, to where the fencers had stopped to take a break. My grandmother and brother had brought lunch and we ate on the ground in the shade of the excavator. After the kids had fought over sandwiches and drinks, it was peacefully quiet, and I looked over at Lola, to see that she had curled up and fallen asleep in my mom’s lap. She looked so content. I nudged my cousin and he smiled, as Lola’s eyelashes shivered and she sighed heavily, sinking deeper into sleep and the lap she was taking up.
Soon I was off my crutches, against my doctor’s wishes, and pushing my knee to the limit. I had tough competition with two 15-year-old male cousins and me being only 12. Everything we did was about who could do it the strongest, or the best, or the fastest. I kept up and learned everything quickly.
A week or so later we were attempting to get the cows out into the recently finished fence, but they were more difficult than we expected. Holsteins are big, strong cows, but one of ours, Jenna, is even bigger and built well. She has long legs, a firm foundation, and some extra weight. When you open the stable door and look down the backs of all the cattle, she towers over the others.
“Jenna! Just go, big girl!” I said with an exasperated shove. We had gotten five others unhitched and turned around in their stanchions. All they had to do was walk down the aisle and outside to where my grandfather was waiting to head them into the field.
Jenna had no intention of leaving. We pulled and pushed, but of course, she was much stronger than all of us combined. She needed a little motivation to leave. Finally, she stepped over the gutter and started down the aisle, and we hadn’t even gotten around to begin shooing her out, when Jenna swung around and started fighting with Freckles, another cow we had unhitched. Apparently Jenna had to teach her who was in charge before they had even made it outside. The heifers that were still hitched began bellowing and getting riled up by the fighting. We started running and hollering and Jenna and Freckles took off outside and into the pasture. We stood panting and shut the gate for the day.
Haying began shortly after the heifers went out, and I quickly learned that being able to drive was a big perk around the farm when you were 12.
“Can I please, please, please drive?” I begged my mom.
“Oh…I guess,” she said, as we climbed in the truck. I raced down the hill toward the hayfield, trying to outrun the dust that was building into a cloud behind me. I had been practicing driving in the fields for a couple of years, and was pretty good at it. When I found out how useful it was around the barn, I tried to drive as much as I could.
When we came to the strip of land beside the river where my grandfather was haying, we saw a wagon half-full of bales, and rows of hay everywhere. Things were going well for a few minutes while we watched, but soon you could hear a stream of curses and the tractor being revved up as my grandfather rocketed up the hill, slammed it into park, and started to climb down. The wagon was now full of loose hay and more was seeping out the kicker. It was hard to hear over the tractor and the baler, but we didn’t have to hear to tell it wasn’t working.
We walked over and climbed up to look into the baler with him. The baler had decided to stop tying the bales and was just kicking loose hay into the wagon. My grandfather and mom were standing on the tire picking twine out of the gears and cleaning out the knotter, while I ran to get tools. When my grandfather climbed back into the tractor and started down the rows, the baler worked again, and kicked the tied hay into the wagon. My mom and I looked at each other and sighed in relief. Only five or so bales later, though, it started all over again.
We fought with the baler for the rest of the afternoon, until all the hay had been tied. I rode on top of the hay up to the barn where we backed the wagon into the shed, too tired to unload it that night. We sat out in front of the barn for a while as the sun went down, and you could feel the air getting cooler. The cats found laps to sit on, and the heifers wandered up to the edge of the fence to have their necks scratched.
One of the hottest days of the summer started with us finding a big section of our new fence lying on the ground, where someone had driven through it overnight. We only had three people that day, and a lot of fence to fix, tearing up fence posts and taking down a lot of wire. It took a couple of hours to fix, but it was just so hot and a little depressing to be rebuilding something we had worked so hard on. When we headed back home for lunch, I was covered in cuts where the barbed wire had gone through my jeans. It was worth it, though, when we drove by at night and all the cows were grazing on top of the hill with the moon coming up behind them. It was beautiful and you felt good knowing that they weren’t still inside.
Summer came and went. The heifers that had gone outside had been bred and shipped… except for Jenna. She was my favorite and I know that my grandfather pretended to just forget about her so that she would be too close to calving to ship. I walked down the hill to where there were about 10 grazing. Jenna was huge and had bagged tremendously over the last few days. Her due date was coming soon and she needed to come back inside. I hugged her and we started up to the barn together. She was so pregnant that it was too much work for her to object.
We debated whether to try to get her in the barn without my grandfather’s help, and decided to give it a try. I gated her into a feeding bunk and put a collar on her. My mom and brother came out with a bucket of grain and a halter. They opened the back door of the barn while I put the halter on Jenna. She preferred me over anyone, but wasn’t too happy to have a halter on. We took a deep breath and opened the gate. I half expected her to take right off, but she followed the bucket of grain for a while. We were right in front of the door, when she started to get upset. She began swinging her head and pulling, but we had already wrapped the halter around a pipe and she had no other place to go, but in.
Jenna calved a few days later and had a heifer. She’s as pretty as her mother and growing like crazy. We kept only three calves that summer, including Lola and Jenna’s and, had lots of kittens. I can’t help but look forward to going and seeing the animals every day. I like seeing the heifers grazing on the hillside and the smell of the freshly cut hay, being able to lean against Jenna when I’m tired, and just hugging her calf when I need a hug. Even though the work can be hard, and full of frustrations, there is something special about being here. Maybe on the farm, as with the fencing, the twists and barbs you face each day are the things that make you stronger.