There are many different types and sizes of farms. Some farms raise livestock, and others grow crops for food or to use for other purposes, and some do a combination of all of these. Agriculture is another word for farming, and farms vary in size and income, from smaller family farms to large industrial farms, which produce much greater numbers of livestock (farm animals) or crops (plants). According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than half the farms in the United States are smaller family farms. An organic farm uses natural food sources and pest control to raise animals and/or grow crops.
A day in the life of a small family farm
Cary Cook is a former nurse who owns a farm in Illinois, where she raises livestock, including birds and pigs. She also grows crops to feed her livestock and vegetables for her household and to sell. Each season is a bit different on a farm: Spring is busy because it’s time to till, or plow, the ground and plant vegetables in the garden and fall is the busiest time due to harvest. Winters in the Midwest can be very cold, so tending to farm animals to make sure they’re warm and safe is important.
Early each morning, Cary’s dogs scout the area to make sure no wild animals are around who could harm her farm animals. Then she lets the chickens, ducks, turkeys, and guinea fowl out to “free range,” or roam freely outside of pens or cages. Next, it’s feeding time, starting with baby birds and then the pigs–who Cary says “are always hungry!”–and then the adult birds. There are also hooved animals, or ungulates, on the farm that need feeding: a donkey, a small cow, two ewes (female sheep) and their lambs, and a ram (male sheep). “When I feed every animal, I’m looking them over, just like I did with patients as a nurse,” Cary says. If all of the animals look healthy and safe, it’s time for chores, which include throwing hay bales to the ungulates, cleaning the chicken house, and putting out straw for nests and the pig house. In spring and fall, planting and harvesting are added to the list of chores for the day.
Know where our food comes from
“As a lifelong animal lover, my favorite part of farming is the animals,” says Cary. “I love learning about them, I love bonding with them, and I really enjoy watching different types of animals interact with each other.” It can be difficult to think about raising animals for food, she says. “As a kid I always knew where my food came from beyond the grocery store because my family spent time on farms regularly.”
When she became a farmer, Cary decided to be as kind to and involved with her livestock as possible. “Everyone is born, grows, and dies. That’s life, and that’s nature. Whether you are talking about a person, a broccoli plant, a chicken or a pig, the cycle is the same,” she says. “I raise small numbers of animals that I love; I name them and I give them the very best happy life I can give them.” This is much harder work, Cary says, because letting animals roam free range makes it more difficult to keep track of them and keep them safe. When it’s time to butcher them for meat, Cary makes sure it’s done as painlessly and free from fear as possible. “My livestock have better lives than many people, and I’m proud of that, but I also feel I owe that to them,” she says.
“Farming is a very hard job, but you get to be out in nature every day, experiencing wildlife and weather,” says Cary. “You also get to develop a bond with your land and animals, and to solve interesting problems every day. It’s very special.”
Learn more about farming
- Read, read, and read some more. You can find a variety of books on farming at your library, and many county farm bureaus publish magazines with interesting stories and photos of farm life.
- Visit local farms that host open houses or tours, or call a local farm and ask if you can visit.
- Volunteer for a day or special event to experience what it’s like to care for animals and plants and to do chores outdoors.
- 4-H is a great organization for students who are interested in agriculture, featuring local clubs, camps, and in-school programs. Working with adult mentors, students select a hands-on project to work on in areas including science, technology, healthy living, and citizenship.
Farming Vocabulary Word List
Farm – Land used to grow crops and/or raise animals
Agriculture – Planting crops and raising livestock, also known as farming
Livestock – Animals (cows, pigs, horses, birds, etc.) raised on farms
Crops – A plant or plant product that is grown and harvested on a farm
Industrial Farm – A large farm or ranch run by a family or company that produces in large quantities
Family Farm – Small or mid-sized farms run by an individual or family
Ranch – A farm that primarily raises livestock
Organic Farming – A practice that seek to raise livestock and grow food without using pesticides and with as little waste as possible
Free Range – Farm animals who are allowed to roam freely, instead of being caged
Tilling – Plowing and otherwise preparing land for planting
Ungulate – An animal with hooves
Ewe – A female sheep
Ram – A male sheep
Lamb – A baby sheep
Guinea Fowl – A type of bird raised for food and eggs, like chickens, ducks, and turkeys.
Language Arts Lesson Plan: My Farm Journal
Have students write answers to the following writing prompts about farms:
- My favorite farm animal is a ____________ because ___________.
- If I was a farmer, I would grow these types of plants: ______________.
- I would also want to raise these animals: ____________________.
- My favorite season on a farm would be ____________ because __________________.
- My favorite dairy products are _________________________.
- I’d like to paint my barn this color: _________________.
- I think eggs are ____________ and my favorite meal made with eggs is _____________.
Farming for Kids Printables and Worksheets
We also have a whole collection of farm animal coloring pages, including several color by number worksheets!