Farming Wives – Then and Now

I have been asked occasionally what is the difference for wives of farmers now and my parents’ generation so I thought it might make an interesting blog post. We inherited my parents farm so it is quite easy to make comparisons given that the type of farming hasn’t changed all that much.

In my parents’ day:

  • My father had a workman who worked 8:30-5:30 so he had his companionship as well as his help.
  • Farming was more labour intensive in many ways then, for example,the milk had to be brought daily to the local creamery in a small bulk tank which could have taken up to an hour. Bales had to be lifted onto a trailer by hand instead of with a loader. Men would have had to sprong silage around on the silo. But there would have been more help available at an affordable rate and more people to chat to and have a laugh with.
  • My mother would have been in the kitchen a lot more than I am. While I cook a dinner every day and feed contractors occasionally, I don’t bake as often as my mother would. She would have cooked dinner every day for our workman as well as us and a dessert would be baked every day too. She cooked the workman a tea before he went home in the evenings (as he was a bachelor). ?The contractors would also be working here for up to a week at silage whereas now it’s generally only ?a day and she would have provided them with dinner and tea, often bringing it over to the silage field. There was often plenty of left-overs after dinner as it was almost a case of putting on extra spuds just in case someone called in at dinner time.
  • My mother would have entertained much more than I do too. Reps would have called in for a cup of tea and a scone. One example I remember is my mother would have often invited in the wife of an agricultural architect who had to be driven around and they’d chat for hours. Last year, she was sitting up in the yard waiting for her husband as he was doing some stuff for us and Brian knew not to send her in, that I was up to my eyes and if I had to make small talk for an hour, I’d probably murder him.
  • My mother would have ‘entertained’ her mother in law and two widowed aunts-in-law relatively often on Sundays. She’d collect them on the Sunday morning, bring them to church, cook dinner and dessert, listen to gossip for the afternoon, cook tea and then my father would drop them home when he’d finished milking.
  • My parents had a much better social life than we have though. Although my father would have worked late into the evening occasionally, he was generally in by 8pm and he’d be in by 5pm from Nov-Feb. They played badminton at least twice a week during the winter and often went to dinner dances. ?They had a wonderful babysitter whom we loved and viewed her as a third grandmother and she was not the type to sit still but would clean from the moment she arrived, we trying to drag her away to play cards with us and read us stories. If I had a babysitter like that, I’d go out twice a week too! Well, probably not – I’m happy sitting at home on the laptop or with a book.
  • My mum would have been quite ‘modern’ In comparison to many other farming wives having a dishwasher, electric cooker and central heating when they built the new house.
  • My mum helped my dad on the farm before I was born but when we were small, she wouldn’t have worked that much outside bar helping to move cattle and stand in gaps. When our workman died in 1986, she helped more then by feeding calves in the spring.
  • Farmers wives of my mum’s generation mostly tended to stay at home rather than go out to work – (unless she was a teacher which was apparently equal to the income of an extra 20 cows that didn’t have to be milked!)
  • The money was often in the ownership of the man, my mother could sign the cheque book but it was my father’s name on the farm deeds and on the bank account. However, he never questioned anything she spent.

In my grandparents day:

My mother’s parents were still quite active when I was little so I remember their methods of farming more than my father’s parents.

  • My grandfather went to the pub after the mart for some social drinking frequently and my grandmother and the workman would have milked the cows as often as not. The women had the job of washing the dairy churns and keeping everything clean in the dairy.
  • My grandmother kept poultry to create a significant income. She had a large henhouse and sold eggs daily to callers. She kept chickens and turkeys too. She killed her own chickens for the table, made bread every day, had a vegetable garden and was fairly self -sufficient.
  • She had 8 children so she was a busy woman. She did have a neighbouring woman come in to help her at busy times.
  • My grandfather had ownership over the cheque book (ie income from the farm) but she earned her own money from the hens – money to buy clothes for the children, extra food for the table, Christmas presents, rather than providing extras.
  • She got married quite young at 20. While she and my grandfather probably had plenty of arguments over the farm and money, they loved each other intensely. I remember bringing her to visit him in hospital and as she said that a daughter’s anniversary party was the first function she’d ever been to without him, his hand found hers to hold it and I realised that they still loved each other very much after over fifty years of marriage.


  • Farmers wives tend to either help out on the farm or work full or part time outside the home. I’m self employed so I have the best of both worlds – I’m here during the day for the kids and it’s nice for Brian that I’m here too and yet it keeps me busy and provides an extra income.
  • Many farmers wives would be in charge of the paperwork. We’ve been married for almost 20 years and Brian has eventually accepted that I’m absolutely useless at it and will do anything in an attempt to put it off so rather than kill each other, he is now doing it with me.
  • Brian works long hours on his own 6:30 – 10pm for the last number of months – partly due to the horrendous weather we’re having this year which is affecting our income and creating much more work.
  • While I do make brown bread and bake cakes, I wouldn’t do so on a daily basis. My mother made meals all day long – 1pm dinner, then a dinner for us at 3:30 when we came home from school, then tea for the workman at 5:15 and tea for the family later. I cook one dinner – for us all at 3:30 when the kids come home from school.
  • What do I do on the farm? – well, I do the goats, I feed calves in the spring, I stand in gaps when moving cattle, I help out at busy times such as testing cattle. I don’t drive a tractor though nor do I herd the bulls! I find it hard to tell if a heifer/cow is on heat too – unless she is standing very still or jumping on another cow.
  • I visited an elderly neighbour about a year ago and getting up to leave, commented that I’d better get home to get dinner started as Brian would be home from the mart. “Would he be home already?” she asked astounded. “Sure would he not have gone to the pub” and then she stopped embarrassed, knowing my father never drank so that would have been alien to me growing up although fairly common in other households. I just laughed and shook my head saying Brian had way too much work waiting for him.

Me in my winter calf-feeding garb! I have to admit I don’t tend to worry too much about my appearance in front of the calves!

I’d love to hear your comments on how your life differs from your mum’s or your gran’s.

I’m not saying that the differences between my generation and those of my mother and grandmother are the same for all families as it is also dependant on our own personalities and those of our husbands.

4 thoughts on “Farming Wives – Then and Now

  • Amee

    My mother was from a farming background, and ran screaming in the other direction as soon as she could, ending up working in the bank. When we were young we went ‘home’ to ‘Cooleney’ (home of the cheese) a few times a year. We were frightened of the turkeys and chickens and could not fathom the accents of our cousins – my mum raised a group of townies. I will always remember my Granny coming to stay for a few weeks every summer. Then herself and mum would make duck down stuffed quilts and pillows with feathers brought from the farm and my hairdresser father would color and curl Granny Hayden’s hair – skills on both sides.

    Having spent a lot of my time when I was young on my uncles farm I loved this post – My aunty Nellie who is 80 has just this Christmas past sent me the family Christmas pudding recipe by e-mail having refused to be left behind by technology. And to think I remember her having a mangle for her laundry when I was a tot.

    • Lorna

      I think there are so many Irish people who remember visiting grandparents or uncles farms as kids and either loving the few weeks of farming (seeing the good parts in the good weather) or being terrified and aghast. Farming industrialised so quickly as did household gadgets, I can just about remember visiting neighbours who cooked on their fire in the early 70s and had an outside toilet installed around the same time.

  • Doris Cantwell

    Farming wives then and now is great, I am a farmers wife, as were my mother and my grandmothers, as too were my mother-in-law and her mother so I come from a long line. My mums mother was widowed at a very young age and left to raise a young family so things were pretty hard for her. My mother was a great woman to feed all and sundry and always enjoyed a chat,as a young woman she would have done a lot of farm work especially on her home farm before she married my Dad. I remember her seperating the milk and making homemade butter in the days before we started sending the milk to the creamery. My three children are now adults, while they were young I was at home full time, since they have grown I have part time work, two days a week. Life is busy as I do the paperwork related to all things farming, I dont do much farm work apart from the odd stand in the gap job. We do have a farm worker and he gets breakfast and dinner each day. My husband had a farm related business for a number of years and I did the admin for that. Life is busy, my Dad used to say “agriculture is the back bone of this country”, which I think is true.

    • Lorna

      Yes, I think many farming wives work a lot harder than the ‘farmers’. The wives are looking after the kids, feeding the family and whatever workers, doing the paperwork and often doing farm jobs too – particularly in the past. My gran and mother-in-law would have separated the milk and made the butter too etc.
      Life did seem more sociable then whereas farming can be quite isolating now which is hard for some farmers to handle. Perhaps luckily, my husband and I both like our own company 😉
      Many thanks for your comment, Doris and I’m delighted that you liked the post and engaged with it with such an interesting comment, Lorna



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