Life lessons in the shadow of a granary

"Watching non-traditional farm girls learn to care for livestock, including working with their stubborn heifers in the yard where my great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents once lived by the old granary, blends the old with the new."

A weathered granary stands in front of a sky of scattered dark blue clouds.
This granary stands next to where Katie Pinke's daughters have kept their 4-H heifers this spring and was built by her great-great-grandfather.
Katie Pinke / Agweek
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The granary towered over me as I sat in my parked vehicle, with my laptop open and window partially rolled down, watching my 14-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, in a nearby pen with two 4-H heifers. I needed to crank out this column, but first I had to get out of the vehicle and stare up at the granary.

I called my 92-year-old grandmother, just one mile east of where I stood, but it took a few hellos and moving around in the grass before my service went through. “Grandma, it’s Katie. I’m up with Elizabeth and the heifers. This granary — was it built by your dad or your grandpa?”

Grandma went on to explain it was there when she was a child and had been built by her grandpa, advanced for its time with a concrete floor and underground grain storage.

“Dad always was advanced in his farming practices, but my mother would say not advanced in the house we lived in …” she chuckled.

Many farm families can relate. The farm comes first.


While my kids aren’t directly raised on the farm, I’ve tried to keep them close and connected. My girls love the cattle, far more than my siblings or I ever did. My mother says the 4-H cattle-showing gene skipped a generation from my mom to my girls.

The old granary was built by my great-great-grandfather Nicholas and continued to be used by my great-grandfather, Odin, who lived until my freshman year of high school. It sits next to where we take our daughters daily to care for their 4-H heifers.

Looking up at the granary, I said to Grandma, “My girls would be the sixth generation to use it then?” We counted Grandma’s grandparents to my children, six generations. While not a traditional granary any longer, it still has purpose holding feed bags, combs, brushes, halters, cattle wash and other 4-H supplies my girls stash inside.

Grandma said: “And I am so glad it does. My kids always liked showing cattle, you know, and now your girls sure do.”

We moved the heifers this spring from my grandma’s flooded yard to higher ground at my uncle’s where the granary stands. The girls lease the heifers from my uncle and cousin for their 4-H beef projects.

Watching non-traditional farm girls learn to care for livestock, including working with their stubborn heifers in the yard where my great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents once lived by the old granary, blends the old with the new.

IMG_4642 (1).jpg
Anika Pinke, 12, and Elizabeth Pinke, 14, stand with their leased 4-H heifers they will show at their upcoming county fair.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

Elizabeth said to me while trying to walk her heifer, Rita: “Mayme says learning to care for animals, even stubborn ones like Rita, will help me become a good doctor one day. Humans are stubborn just like heifers.”

She doesn’t have dreams to be a sixth-generation farmer but she’s learning life lessons on the farm like many before her. The paths from the farm lead to anywhere you choose. Next week, our girls take their heifers to the county fair. And someday, when the 4-H years come to an end, maybe the path will lead to a career far from the farm for Elizabeth.


“Oh Rita, I’ve done the best I can with you,” said Elizabeth, as she was putting her heifer up for the evening. The lessons in the shadow of the granary will last far beyond her time patiently leading Rita on a halter.

With love and care, the farm has done the best it can for all of us.

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

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