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The life of a farm wife has changed considerably over the past 60 years, as I found when I sat down with my mother- and sisters-in-law Della Eickhoff, Cheri Eickhoff and Jennifer Eickhoff about their experience in the continuous, busy role. I’ll never look at a hog barn the same way again, learning that it could be a place of undisturbed tranquility. I’ll explain.

Danny Eickhoff of Fordyce, Nebraska, farmed with his father Frank. Della Eickhoff joined him in marriage and farming in 1957 and they helped Frank farm while he eased into retirement. When his dad fully retired and sold his equipment in 1961, Danny upgraded the farm from two-row equipment to four-row equipment.

Danny and Della’s farm grew as they added eleven children to their family, five girls and six boys. Although all the boys loved farming, two of them, John and Allen, chose it as their full-time occupation and after Danny’s death in 2003, they continued to farm the Eickhoff family farm.

Though the role of a farm wife has seen many changes over the past sixty-years, one fact hasn’t changed. She has many responsibilities and is the glue that holds the family together.

The Eickhoff farm still focuses on crop and cattle farming but they have removed raising hogs and chickens from their niche. A typical day for Della would involve taking care of the children, taking care of household duties, helping with farm chores and preparing lunch for Danny and the older children when they took a break. At 4:00 p.m. daily, she loaded the children in the car to run an afternoon snack out to the field and they would then run after items as necessary to keep Danny going, for instance she would pick up another bushel of corn for Danny to plant if he needed it.During the busy planting and harvesting seasons when Danny would work until it was dark outside, Della would take care of the farm chores. Feeding hogs was tricky due to their insatiable appetite. She explained how they were always ready for feeding time so she found it was best to feed them while they were sleeping. Quietly stepping carefully through the hog yard, she was careful not to make any noise until she could get to the raised platform where she could throw the food out to them. Any noise she made or a grunt from a fellow pig would trigger a greedy swine riot, causing the hungry group to race to the platform and push her out of the way.

Several of their chores required more manual labor than they do today; hay was ground by hand instead of with the option of a grinder/mixer that we have today. Cows were fed by carrying several trips of 5-gallon buckets to the feed bunk rather than using a tractor with a mixer wagon.

The improvements in machinery options have improved the efficiency of their farming, allowing John and Allen more time for more farming, including more land, more cattle and custom field work. John’s wife, Cheri and Allen’s wife, Jennifer, both have busy schedules in raising their children and farming while working a full-time job outside the home.

Cheri explains that a typical day involves getting the kids ready and off to school after eating breakfast, then the husbands go on their way to work at the farm and the wives head to their jobs. This looks like a typical family with dual-working parents, until school gets out for the day. Cheri and Jennifer are used to managing the household alone in the evenings, as John and Allen farm much later at night than their father would. Advancements in technology make it easier for the boys to farm as late as midnight during the busy season.

Della agreed that evenings were the most hectic. When their children became of school-age, Della’s busiest part of the day would start at 4:00 p.m. when the kids would come home. They would then rush to eat a snack before tackling the chores and cleaning of the hog barns, a daily task on the farm.While supper would take place around the kitchen table with the family, Della explains it was after dark when they ate, waiting until Danny was finished for the day.

“To sit and eat as a family supper doesn’t happen very often,” Cheri states.Jennifer explains, “There’s a lot of running meals to the field, figuring out what you can make that when you get there it’s still going to be hot, if you make a hot meal. Are they going to be able to eat right then or is it going to be an hour later before they’re able to eat, or are they going to eat when they get home?”

Family meals can often be quick family tailgating trips at the field, Jennifer continues. “A lot of times for us now we head to the field, the kids and I, and we’ll drop the tailgate on the pickup and we’ll sit for 10-15 minutes and eat, try to eat as a family.” Often after that the kids will leave with their dad to help on the farm.

When raising children, farming often becomes a family affair. As they became old enough, Della’s children started to help with babysitting, house chores and farm chores. The oldest of Jennifer and Cheri’s own children, Logan and Lexi, started helping on the farm around age 8 or 9, the same age that Della and Danny’s own children started to help.

There was one chore that, although not pleasant, it served other purposes for Della - cleaning the hog barn. She found that when her daughters helped, they utilized their time together.

“We cleaned many a hog barn. That was our time to talk.” She smilesand explains how times while the boys were helping their dad allowedthe girls some time alone while they cleaned the barn.

Della also sought out the tranquility and quietness in cleaning thehog barn by herself. She explains how she used this as time alone from the hustle and bustle of a houseful of children. “No one ever bothered you in the hog barn!” We all laughed and suggested that we might never look at barns the same way again.

With so many changes over the years, what surprises Della the most is how Jennifer and Cheri can work away from home and balance work and home/farm life so well.

“Our technology has really helped,” states Jennifer. “I can call on the cell phone to find out what field he’s in or what time he’s going to be home. And we can text.”

Della wasn’t accustomed to this technology while farming with Danny, she never knew where he was at or what time he would be back.

Having a cell phone does have its drawbacks, though, because it makes you accessible all the time. Unless if you have a hog barn to clean and don’t take the phone with you…Della found that getting all the work done was most challenging.

With a big family, there was a lot of laundry, a lot of food to be cooked,a lot of everything, and still the responsibility of chores. She explains how today it’s just the same, but in a different way, as each family has different responsibilities to juggle.

Farming is an everyday job with daily chores that need to be done on top of any crop farming taking place. Time spent on chores could bemore than two hours, depending on what time of year it is. In the busy spring and fall seasons, farmers work every day for days straight trying to get the crops taken care of.

Cheri finds it most challenging to find time to be together, explaining, “Finding the time with them being so busy. Finding the time for just us sometimes,” Jennifer explains how she took the opportunity to ride with Allen one night in the tractor while the kids were at friend’s house.

Though being on the farm often doesn’t always allow Cheri and Jennifer’s children the same summer sports and activities as children in larger towns, the kids don’t miss out on fun. They look forward to summer, playing in the creek that runs behind the farm, the same creek where their dads spent hours playing, camping and fishing.

Cheri, born a farm girl, helped her dad on the farm every chance she could while growing up. “I’m in love with it. I loved it growing up. I’m an outdoor girl, I’m an animal lover. I love it.”

Jennifer grew up in town, but both of her grandparents lived on farms so she was exposed to it. “I feel like I’m always learning,” she states. She explains how she can see that farming is something that’s just born in a person’s nature, it’s in their blood. She saw that in her husband Allen and she now sees it in her son, Logan and even in her daughter, Madison. Cheri comments that it’s a rewarding feeling to see the farming business stay in the family. She knows that it means the world to her dad to see her brother take over their family farm.

The most enjoyable part? “The privacy,” Della states, “and being able to let your kids go.” The children have plenty of room to run and play outside.

“The kids enjoy being on the farm,” Cheri smiles.“There’s no better place to live,” says Della. Cheri and Jennifer smile and nod, all in agreement that this is one thing that hasn’t changed over the past sixty years of farming.