The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

May 17, 2012

Salute to Beef: Through the eyes of a farm wife

The adventures never cease with husband, kids and cows

OTTUMWA — A typical wife and mother is already juggling a husband, kids, home, work and all the extracurricular activities that go along with daily life.

But add in a farm, crops and cows in several pastures, and you’ve got the life of Rose Larkin, cattle producer’s wife.

The Larkins have close to 500 acres in rural Ottumwa where they raise both crops and cattle. They raise registered Angus bulls and replacement heifers, cows that aren’t for meat but go into someone else’s herd. The farm is calf-to-slaughter, raising each cow from baby to their final destination.

Larkin grew up on a farm, and her parents raised everything from cattle and pigs to chickens and goats. Her mother helped work the fields, cook, keep the home and raise a family.

“My dad had a herd of Angus, and he had dairy cows, too. I milked cows twice a day, and I don’t miss that,” she remembered. “We had chickens for meat and eggs, goats for milk. We were pretty self-sufficient.”

There was no doubt in her mind, after watching the way her parents worked and ran their home, that her heart was on the farm. She firmly believes that she was fitted for this life.

“There’s no question, I’ve never wanted to be anything else,” Larkin said. “I didn’t know what kind of job I would have, but I knew I’d be on the farm. There’s isn’t much out there I’d rather do.”

And this love of the land and the animals put her on the right path for life today. Growing up in a farm family made her the most appropriate choice when she met her husband, Tom.

“He jokes that I was raised to marry him,” Larkin said with a laugh. “And I don’t think there’s anyone else who would put up with me.”

Communication is the most important component to keeping both the Larkin farm and the Larkin marriage running smoothly. There’s a lot to discuss on the farm, not to mention with the kids and the house.

“We depend on each other a lot for a lot of things,” Larkin said. “I’ll bring him dinner in the field, and that’s our time to talk. It does get hard to catch each other during the day, but thank goodness for cell phones!”

In addition to being a mail carrier, her husband farms with his brother and father. They plant enough for feed for their cattle, and hopefully there’s a little left over to sell.

“We feed with our own grain. If it’s a good crop year, we may sell some, but we always keep more than we think we’ll need,” she said. “If you have to buy grain to feed, you won’t make a profit.”

The 4-H babies are all in one field — these are the cows raised by the kids for their yearly projects. Now they’re some of the most special, spoiled animals on the farm.

“Yes, they’re spoiled, but there’s a reason,” she explained. “This way you don’t have to chase them, you just call them. It’s much easier, and it’s much less stressful for everyone.”

The girls in this field range in age from new calves up to 16 years. Many of them have just had calves, and three are still waiting to deliver.

“We’ve been calving since January,” Larkin said. “They’re separated out in this pasture so we can keep a special eye on these cows.”

The mornings are always a busy time, beginning with early chores and getting around for work and school. Everyone pitches in so they can all get where they need to go on time.

After working her part-time job at the veterinarian’s office, Larkin gets home in early evening, changes clothes and starts on chores. There are many things to check on every day, including sick cattle, pregnant cows and any that may have strayed away.

“The kids and I do the main cow work, and a lot of the responsibility falls to the kids,” she said. “And then there’s still all the housework. There’s the kid part, the house part and the cow part.”

The Larkins have three children, 17-year-old Ben, 15-year-old Katie and 11-year-old Gabriel. They’ve all been involved in sports, band, 4-H and FFA, and their parents have tried to attend everything possible.

“I’ll ask, who has something tonight?” she said. “Then I rely on hoping I remember what they’ve just said ... and friends reminding me, too. If I survive today, I’ll worry about tomorrow.”

While the females are artificially inseminated each year, in late July the bulls are turned out as backup. The Larkins will do another pregnancy check through the herd in the fall. If the cows aren’t pregnant, they’ll be sold. Many of the heifers will also be sold in April. The Larkins will keep the top percentage for their own herd and sell the rest. Likewise, they’ll keep the top percentage of bulls, and the rest will go to the feed lot.

“You hate to see your kids cry because their favorite cows have to be sold, so you hope they all get pregnant,” Larkin said.

From the 50 cows on the farm, four had sets of twins last year, of which three sets survived. There has been one set this year as well. The realities of life are crystal clear when working with living creatures.

“That’s part of farming. You’ll have good days and awful days,” Larkin said. “I’ve told the kids they’ll learn a lot about life and death this way.”

The three Larkin children have also learned about checking in with their parents during the day. With kids on horses and tractors all across the farm, cell phones have become essential.

“They’ll touch base when they get home and let me know they’re starting on chores and where they’ll be,” she said. “I’ll get three phone calls at work after they get home.”

In the evenings, Larkin will often spend two or three hours with her daughter riding through the cattle. They have checklists and specific needs they’re looking for. Often there are pregnancies to watch, calves to track down and feed to refill. Her oldest son can also be found driving the tractor and helping in the fields, while the youngest is working on his own chores.

Larkin and her husband are using this schedule and work ethic to turn their children into more well-rounded adults.

“In the long run, we believe this will make them better citizens. They’ll be more responsible, knowing how to work hard,” she said. “If they want to have something, they have to take care of it. They’ll eat breakfast in the morning after they take care of the chores of the day, not because I said so, but because they know the animals are depending on them.”

They are also getting some firsthand knowledge of the disappointments life can bring. They might not get as much money as they expected when they sell that favorite cow. Or the calf they had hoped to raise gets sick and dies. Larkins feels these realities and disappointments are part of what is shaping them into wonderful people.

“They do so well, and I am so proud of our kids,” Larkin said. “They’re hard workers, and they’re committed to everything they do. The work they do out here has a lot to do with that.”

After a busy day of work, keeping the home and keeping up with the family, her time with the cows becomes extremely important. Time flies when she’s working with them, feeding them and having some wonderful conversations with them.

“I spend a lot of time out here in the pastures,” she said. “This is my release for the day.”

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