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Grade school cowboy

GAYS MILLS - On a bright fall day, young Tim Burris filed into the classroom along with 18 of his classmates. It was the first day of a required survey class, one of several during the year that sixth graders took to explore and learn about their world. The six-week ‘exploratories’ included art, home economics, tech ed, keyboarding, and this one, which Tim was really looking forward to: agriculture.

Tim lived in town with his mom and sister. He had always liked going to his uncle Walt’s dairy farm. It was just a short bike ride from home and he spent a lot of his free time there. He liked everything about the farm, the sights, the sounds, the work, even the smells. Lately, Walt had been giving his 12-year-old nephew more responsibility on the farm and Tim was turning out to be a great help around the place. Tim fed the calves, went after the cows in the pasture at milking time, helped clean the barn, and recently learned how to milk a few of the gentler cows. Recently, Tim learned how to drive the Ford 8N tractor and successfully cultivated several acres of corn under the watchful eye of his uncle.

As Tim’s time on the farm and his responsibilities grew, Walt asked him one day how he would like to be paid. Walt valued Tim’s help and felt he should be paid something. He suggested that Tim either be given a newborn calf every month for his labor or paid $50 a month. Tim had never been paid before for his farm work and hadn’t really thought about it. 

Tim talked it over with his mom. Although the family could use the money he would earn, she knew he wanted to get actively involved in agriculture and encouraged him to take the calves.


Walt usually sold the bull calves from his dairy herd shortly after they were born. He agreed to the calf deal and would let Tim keep the bull calves on the farm for a couple of months as part of the arrangement. Tim was thrilled to be able to call that first calf his own and took extra good care of it.  

Walt helped Tim find an unused pasture and a small shed in the neighborhood. The absentee owners were glad to let Tim use their place to raise his calves; they were anxious to see some activity on their rural getaway property.  The seven-acre pasture was fenced, but the fence was in poor repair. Soon Tim was learning all about fence building and repair with Walt’s help. He also learned about electricity as he installed a solar electric fencer that Walt had and no longer used.

As it turned out that year, Jim had more than one bull calf a month. Tim got them all. Walt saw Tim’s interest grow and his farming skills develop. He was glad to help Tim develop his herd of dairy steers.

At the end of Tim’s sixth grade year, he proudly looked out over his herd of 15 steers, of all different sizes, grazing in the sun. Through hard work and the help and support of his uncle, his mother, and the people,  who allowed him to use their land, Tim had become a grade school cowboy.