I was the kid who usually had dirt on her clothes, weeds in her hair, and boots on her feet. I grew up on a 142-acre ranch in the Sacramento Valley, surrounded by countless cats, a few black lab dogs, tons of chickens, a few rabbits, a couple of horses, a herd of cattle, a few goats, and more rattlesnakes than I care to remember.
I loved growing up with farm animals! I used to ride my Nubian goat, Flapjack. I rode horses throughout our property, witnessed the birth of baby calves, had a few puppies in our backyard, and even got a pony for Easter one year. But living on the ranch had its share of hard times as well. I remember that same pony dying shortly after I got him (sometimes life lessons on the farm can be hard for a kid). I remember kitties getting run over on the busy country highway we lived on. And I still remember most of those kitties’ names. I remember having to sell all those adorable black puppies that our dog gave birth to (we did get to keep one). And I remember being thrown over a 6-foot fence because one of our ornery steers charged toward my mom and me. But with the laughter and heartache, I know that being raised with farm animals shaped and molded me into the person I am today. And it’s exactly why I choose to raise my kiddos with farm animals.
My little ones have had farm animals since the day they came home from the hospital. We have always had chickens and goats on our little 1.3-acre farm, but have also had geese and ducks, a rabbit, and now a horse. My children do not know life any other way. From the strengthened immune system to the practice of showing kindness and love, I see the benefits of raising my kiddos around these farm friends each and every day.
The 10 Benefits of Raising Kids With Farm Animals
1. Keeping farm animals significantly boosts immune systems
With all that our world has gone through with COVID-19 and fears that another pandemic could appear again, having a strong immune system can help protect all of us. Research shows that being outside in a less sanitized environment and around different bacteria boosts immune system function. This is a great reason to let your kiddos get outside and play in the dirt and with farm animals.
2. Raising baby farm animals teaches kids how to take care of another living thing
Baby animals are adorable. I’m not sure if I have seen a baby animal that I haven’t oo’ed and ahh’ed over (it’s also why we’ve ended up with a few more baby farm animals than my husband might have wanted). But baby animals are also helpless. They need their humans to give them food, water, and a clean environment so they can grow and thrive. My children have been a part of this process since they were very young. They know to sit down when they are holding baby chicks so that they don’t accidentally drop them. They have learned to be quiet and walk slowly around baby goats so they do not scare them. They have learned how to take care of something other than themselves. And I don’t know about you, but that is the type of child I want—and am determined—to raise. I want my kiddos to learn how to care for another being, whether it be an animal or a human. I want my little ones to learn that their actions always cause a reaction. And what better way to teach kids than with a sweet, innocent, and adorable baby farm animal?
3. Caring for farm animals enhances kids’ mental and emotional health
Virtual show of hands, who was raised with a family dog? As you might imagine, I don’t remember life without a dog in our home. And of course, that’s still true today with my own family’s home. If you had dogs growing up, did you ever use your pup as a shoulder to cry on? I did, many times. I remember being sad over something and nuzzling my face in my dog’s fur. My dog probably thought I was bananas but she stayed still and just let me cry it out while she sat patiently waiting for my bizarre episode to end.
The same is true with farm animals. I remember being upset when I was young and running across our bridge to where our horses were kept. I would brush them and talk to them. They were the perfect four-legged therapists because I could just talk. They never gave me unwanted advice. And they always seemed to enjoy the time I spent with them, even in the midst of my angst. As an adult, I still do this. Brushing our horse is like meditation for me. The strokes of the brush on her back are like raking the sands on those little table-sized zen sand gardens. It immediately calms my mind and comforts my soul.
I have seen my kids run to the animals when they are hurting. I have watched my daughter hug her barn cat when she was sad. I have overheard them carrying on conversations with the chickens when they were frustrated at me. Although I don’t like when my kids are upset, I am happy that they have developed positive coping skills to help themselves feel better. I hope they learn that the ability to cope with life is within them. But if they need a little help along the way, I am confident they will choose a positive way of dealing with their situation rather than a negative one. And if that includes having an animal (or several) by their side, then that’s okay with me.
4. Raising kids with farm animals connects the life cycle dots
Life on the farm does not come without its heartaches. I have buried more animals than I care to count. My kids have too. They have had to say goodbye to their favorite chicken, Hairdo. They cried when we had to put down our 34-year-old horse Fancy. And they have had to give their last hugs and kisses to a few of their goat friends. Although this is devastating for a mom to watch, I wouldn’t change it for the world. My kids understand that nothing lasts forever. They grasp that everything has a beginning and an end. And because of that, my kids make sure they help give these animals the best life possible. They spoil our animals with fresh carrots, watermelon rinds, apple slices, and even peppermint candy (you will never smell breath as sweet as our horse and goats, who happen to love peppermint candy!).
I see how their care for the well-being of their furry and feathered friends translates into anything and everything they love. They treat their siblings better. They are kind to their friends. And they are gentle with nature. I know that when time comes for them to have families of their own, they will be equipped with love and respect for all living organisms because that started with the farm animals they were raised with.
5. Having farm animal chores keep kids active and healthy
Farm animals can be messy. They throw their hay around, toss their grain onto the ground, and dirty up their water. And all of this needs to be maintained in order to keep these animals safe and healthy. Having kids involved with barnyard chores is a great way to get them outside, soaking in the sun and fresh air, while building and strengthening muscles as they work. My kids help sweep out the barn, clean out the stalls, and even scoop the horse poop. And I have a confession to make: they love it! They love being a part of cleaning up the barn and keeping our farm beautiful.
6. Farm animals provide an excellent source of nutrition
Let me start by saying that although many farmers eat their farm animals, that is not the case with us. Our animal friends are like family to us. What I am referring to are the farm-to-table fresh eggs you can enjoy. I am referring to the organic milk you can drink or the most natural butter and cheese you can make. Farm animals can provide some of nature’s most unprocessed and nutrient-packed products available. And these products come at a much more reasonable price than their store-bought counterparts.
7. Keeping farm animals is heart healthy
Who knew that having farm animals could possibly save your life? According to the American Heart Association, regular interactions with animals can be beneficial to your heart by:
- Reducing stress
- Lowering your blood pressure
- Lowering your cholesterol
- Reducing the risk of obesity
- Improving your physical fitness
- Providing companionship, purpose and love—all good for the heart
8. Farm kids tend to spend less time on technology
There is no mystery that if kids have more to do, they have less time to be on technology. Having farm animals requires time and parents do not need to take on this task alone. Involving kids with the daily to-do lists for their farm animals will not only keep them busy doing something productive and meaningful, it will keep them off of their iPads, cell phones and video games even more.
9. Farm animals teach kids to be tough
There’s nothing like learning toughness using farm animals as the teacher. When your horse takes off running without you being able to stop it, you learn toughness to hang on tight. When your brother’s ram knocks you down and then tramples over you, you learn toughness to (literally) get up and wipe the dust off your clothes and keep going. And you learn toughness when you come eye-to-eye with the rooster that just won’t leave you alone.
Kids need to learn toughness, both mental and physical. This world is harsh and kids need to stand strong in who they are, today more than ever. Farm animals teach kids how to be strong, how to take charge, and how to problem solve.
10. Keeping farm animals teaches children how to be courageous
If any of you have stuck your hand under a hen while she is sitting on her eggs, you know that takes courage. Will she peck my hand or will she let me gently gather her eggs? It’s always a little bit of a mystery. Or how about trying to put the reins on your horse? Will they jerk their head back in protest or will they allow me to easily slip it over their ears? These are all lessons that build courage. They are ways for kids to be scared and walk through that fear anyway. And the more they work that muscle of courage, the more courageous in life they become.
How to Keep Your Kids Healthy and Safe Around Farm Animals
Now, I know that there is concern that farm animals can carry diseases and that maybe being around them can be a health hazard. In all of the research I have seen about the filthiest environments, farm animals are not up there at the top. Things like gas station pumps, ATM machines, and grocery carts usually top those charts. But it is always important to teach and practice good farm and barn procedures with your farm animals:
1. Wash your hands immediately after handling any farm animals or eggs.
2. Wash your fresh eggs thoroughly and then wash your hands after washing the eggs.
3. Always cover open cuts or sores to protect from bacteria or germs from getting in.
4. Wear closed-toed shoes or better yet, leather boots, when around farm animals. Leather boots are a must around horses to protect little feet from getting stepped on. Take it from someone who had their foot stepped on by a horse when I was young, the stronger the boot, the better!
5. Teach your kiddos proper food handling around particular farm animals. It’s usually best to keep a flat palm when giving animals (horses in particular) treats.
6. If clothes get soiled from farm animal feces, make sure to change them immediately.
How to Get the Same Farm Life Benefits If You Don’t Live on a Farm
Don’t live on a farm? No problem. There are local working farms all over the United States. Some even offer free tours, goat milking, and egg collecting. My experience has been that farm families love to share their blessings. So try Googling “local farms near me” today so that you can find some fun places to take your kiddos. Because the lessons these farm animals will teach your children will stay with them long past their youth. Take it from me, farm animals can change your life forever for the better.