Beep, beep, beep.
Dale County farmer Celeste Senn punches off her chirping alarm, and the rush is on as she prepares for her three sons to face the day.
By 8 a.m., she’s at Southern Brothers Farm caring for another brood — thousands of chickens in six 60-by-600-feet poultry houses.
“I’m all about family and time with my husband and the boys,” said Celeste, 36. “Farming allows me to do that. It takes all five of us throughout the flock to make it work.”
Celeste taught kindergarten for a decade before a career change to poultry production nearly four years ago. Her husband, Justin, formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. He joined the farm full time in December.
“Like anything new, we were hesitant and nervous starting the farm,” said Justin, 37. “Without Celeste, there’s no way we could have done this. I love being with her every day. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to our family.”
The Senns’ daily to-do list includes checking chickens, monitoring feed and water, and observing fuel usage. During summer, when preparing for a new flock, Ian, 14, Addison, 11, and Titus, 8, are called to action.
“On a good day, you don’t have many problems,” Celeste said. “On a bad day, there’s a feed spill or water leak. Not everyone would want to or could do it, but the good outweighs the bad.”
In the afternoon, Celeste is in mom mode, cleaning the house, gathering game day gear and dishing up dinner (slow cooker roast is a family favorite).
She’s one of thousands of multitasking moms balancing family time and farm duties across Alabama. The Census of Agriculture shows 34% of Alabama’s 65,000 farmers are women, above the national average of 27%.
That includes Michaela Sanders Wilson of Kent in Elmore County. She and husband Brandon are raising 1-year-old Clara Jane on Blue Ribbon Dairy, where the toddler tags along in the tractor’s buddy seat or sways from a custom swing in the milk parlor. Clara Jane often accompanies her mom on milk deliveries and other adventures.
“She’s with me as much as I can keep her,” said Michaela, 31. “It’s a dream come true to have her do the same things I did growing up.”
As a new mom, Michaela is learning to be patient and flexible — and survive on less sleep than her daily 3:30 a.m. trip to the milk barn originally allowed.
“Clara Jane may not appreciate early mornings, but she’ll learn to like it,” Michaela said with a laugh.
Lora Gail Bagents grew up in Montgomery County on her parent’s dairy farm and put those same early morning life lessons to work while raising her four children in Luverne with her husband, Mike.
“We’d pack a lunch and go to the hayfield,” said Lora Gail, 58. “People couldn’t imagine I was with my kids all day in a tractor. One would ride behind the seat, one on the side and one in my lap. In those days, the other hadn’t been born yet.”
Lora Gail is at the forefront of Black Rock Farm in Crenshaw County, which sells registered Simmental and SimAngus bulls and replacement heifers. Mike managed their broiler houses for years, tag-teaming with Lora Gail as needed. When hay season rolls around, both cut, she rakes, and he bales.
“It’s always been a partnership between us,” said Lora Gail.
Except when crunching numbers.
“Bookwork. That’s the one thing he doesn’t do!” she said.
Lora Gail shares her love of farming with the next generation, namely her five grandchildren, who call her “Memaw.”
Whitney Haynes, 35, is raising her five children the same way in Cullman County.
The Haynes farmhands are pros at farm work, such as checking heifers near their house in Fairview and reporting back to their dad, Ben. The family raises beef cattle, corn, soybeans and wheat while juggling ball practice, music lessons and a growing list of extracurriculars for Jack, 12; Lola, 9; Charlie, 7; Caroline, 3; and newborn Pruett.
“I used to look at the weather outside and think about what shoes I should wear,” said Whitney, a family and consumer sciences teacher. “Now when I see rain, I think that my husband can’t get out in the field today or tomorrow. Even our kids watch the weather and look at the weather app.”
Whitney said she and Ben strive to cultivate capable young people — a precious commodity. She’s a proponent of soaking in every minute, giggle and bump in the road, while making time for little things that make a big difference, such as family dinners.
Celeste, Lora Gail and Michaela prioritize suppertime, too. Mealtimes may look familiar to non-farmers some nights — fast food during ball season, slow cooker suppers or Sunday lunch with family. But other nights, it’s all about the farm — with meals shared around a tractor, spread out in a truck bed or eaten at 9 p.m. when work halts.
For Whitney, it’s the life she always wanted.
“As farmers and farm wives, we have the opportunity not a lot of people have,” she said. “It’s the life I’d choose for my kids and family over and over again.”