Doubling your cattle herd takes significant time and investment … unless you’re 11 years old with one heifer to your name.

Our daughter Anika recently doubled her herd when her heifer, Polly, her beloved 2019 Christmas gift, gave birth to the first calf of the season. My uncle texted the good news from the calving barn, and Anika spent the following Saturday at the farm. She named the heifer (that’s what a female who hasn’t calved yet is called for you non-livestock types) Piper. My uncle and Anika must have talked about how much it costs to raise the cow/calf pair. On the way home Anika said to me, “Uff! The cattle business is expensive.”

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I roared in laughter. She then proceeded to ask how she could earn money to pay to feed her herd of two, rattling off the balance of her savings account and realizing she needed more money.

One of life’s greatest earthly rewards is seeing joy in a child. Animals bring Anika joy. She would live in a (heated) barn if she could this time of year. She didn’t inherit her love for animals from her dad and me, but thankfully we have support and help from family to channel and foster her love of animals.

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Anika Pinke, 11, loves animals, including her new Hereford calf, Piper, and an Ohio State study suggests that might boost her immune system. Photo taken Jan. 24, 2021. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Anika Pinke, 11, loves animals, including her new Hereford calf, Piper, and an Ohio State study suggests that might boost her immune system. Photo taken Jan. 24, 2021. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Anika is learning responsibility and time and resource management, along with choosing to spend time outdoors, rather than indoors, and working alongside family. A 2019 Ohio State study suggests getting your children outside more in a rural environment, versus urban, will boost their immune system.

Yes, raise your kids in a barn, so to speak.

According to the study, exposure to environmental bacteria in Amish babies raised in a rural area with farm animals showed a boost to the early immune system, compared with urban babies raised with no farm animals.

The study’s co-lead author, Zhongtang Yu, a professor of microbiology in Ohio State’s Department of Animal Science, said: “Good hygiene is important, but from the perspective of our immune systems, a sanitized environment robs our immune systems of the opportunity to be educated by microbes. Too clean is not necessarily a good thing.”

It’s an odd study to quote in a global health pandemic but I’ll use it to justify my role in funding Anika’s cattle herd of two. She came home last Saturday night and said, with a smile, “Ah, I smell like cows!” She was proud of the scent and one I suppose most city kids don’t get to experience.

For her 11th birthday, Anika begged for guinea pigs, or rodents, as her brother says. Her dad made a call to a locally owned pet store and pre-paid for two prior to her birthday. Two guinea pigs, Dolly and Penny, now share our home.

When Anika asks for more farm animals as birthday or Christmas “gifts,” I remind myself she won’t be living under my roof forever. Maybe her current stable with two head of cattle, two guinea pigs, dogs and cats will grow to include goats, sheep and a horse, if she has her ways. Maybe her exposure to the outdoors and the scent of smelling like cows will encourage her to pursue an animal science career or grow her own farm and ranch from the small and large animals she cares for today.

Raising your kids around farm animals in the great outdoors pays off in dividends. The pandemic has allowed Anika to care for her animals and grow her herd. She explodes with joy when she’s around animals. What is it that brings your kids joy? If it’s animals and fresh air, take advantage of more time during a pandemic to foster and develop that love.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.