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WRITE TEAM: Of course the children belong

WRITE TEAM: Of course the children belong
WRITE TEAM: Of course the children belong

“Of course they belong!”

I sit enthralled as the speaker, a bubbly British lady, describes her childhood at her late father’s side, helping him save rare breeds of livestock. Her family now runs a large farm park where thousands of people visit each year to learn more about the diverse and valuable strains that have fallen by the wayside of commercial agriculture.
Here at the Livestock Conservancy conference with my daughter (see Martha’s Dec. 28 column), I am remembering this lady from the last such conference I attended 30 years ago. I had traveled to St. Joseph County, Michigan, with a dozen Dutch Belted cattle to display, my eldest two sons, age 6 months and 2 years, and my mother-in-law as my helper. When I attended the evening meeting, the little boys came with me, conducting themselves in a relatively orderly manner for their age.
Suddenly one woman spoke up and said she didn’t think children belonged in the meeting.
Humiliated and fuming inside, I gathered them up to head out the door.
“No, Winifred, you should stay!” exclaimed another woman, and others murmured their assent. A kindly genetics professor reached out his arms and welcomed one of my tots onto his lap. I took my seat again holding the other child, and the meeting continued.

I felt affirmed in my labors to help my visionary husband, a rare breed in his own right, in his commitment to preserving and enhancing the rare breeds he had chosen, making it a family venture which included all of our children.

Three decades later, here I was eager to meet this British lady after she spoke, wanting to tell her how fitting it was that she unabashedly admired her father and was obviously proud to continue his mission, just as my daughter was preparing to speak in the next session about carrying on her own father’s herd.

After reintroducing myself, I mentioned being at that meeting in 1987 when I was asked to take my children out, and someone emphatically insisting that I stay.

“That was me!” she cried. “I was furious! Of course the kids belonged there! How can people expect these efforts to continue if they don’t welcome families?”

Now it all came together. Others at this year’s conference also discussed the importance of getting young people involved, so breeding programs don’t come to an end when older breeders retire.
The kindly professor was also in the audience when my daughter spoke and afterward told me what satisfaction it gave him, and how it reminded him of my late husband’s speech after receiving the Livestock Conservation Breeder Award in 1995. He was glad to hear one of the little boys he had entertained long ago is now the farmer of our acreage that feeds the cows and our family.
But this isn’t just about our farm and the individuals who have encouraged us along the way. It’s not even that we expect the next generation to continue in the same line of work. It’s about how all of us view the children in our midst, how we include them meaningfully, and how we envision them in the future.
  • WINIFRED HOFFMAN, of Earlville, is a farmer, breeder of dual-purpose cattle and a student of life. She can be reached by emailing

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